Review: Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott

cautioncontainsSeries: Twelve Planets #9
Published by:
Twelfth Planet Press
ISBN 13: 
9781922101068 (ebook)
ISBN 13:
9781922101051 (paperback)
ASIN:
B00HBSNNOY (kindle)
Published: 
June 2013
Pages:
173
Format reviewed:
Paperback
Site: 
Publisher Site
Goodreads: 
Book Page
Stars: 
Five out of Five
Related Reviews:
A Journey Through Twelve Planets / Site for the challenge

Caution: Contains Small Parts, is the ninth book in the Twelve Planets series, released by Twelfth Planet Press, which showcase the talent of female Australian authors. There is now to be a thirteenth in the series, but that’s a review for another time. The brief given to authors was to write 4 short stories of up to 40,000 words in total. The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.

This collection contains four short stories that aren’t connected other than the same dark tone of their nature, and the mild horror elements – you can tell it’s Kirstyn’s writing throughout, but each is totally individual and unique, showing her versatility and why Australia is so lucky to have such a strong speculative fiction base.

What Amanda Wants

Helen is a councillor at a crisis centre, and it’s here she meets Amanda Fisher. The girl comes in to see her once, twice… and what she says or more importantly, what she doesn’t say, leads Helen compelled to discover the rest of this girl’s story. Helen’s heard and seen it all throughout her career and has a canny ability to draw correct conclusions from the barest of details… but from Amanda, she gets nothing. And eventually, she discovers that there’s a very good reason for that.

This short story was so easily read that the pages just flew by. This is a short story of forgotten and cold lunches as you ignore it – despite how hungry you may be – to read on. McDermott manages to introduce you to characters both simply and in-depth, and it’s glorious to read, even as it involves disgusting and horrid details of some truly awful lives. The plot is balanced perfectly, and you can’t help but feel entirely guiltily satisfied at the outcome.

Horn

A fantasy author struggles to cope because he feels his status as an author is the reason why his life has taken such a terrible turn. We see him struggle through life, struggle to keep his life somehow continuing what with various commitments, and the annoying fan letters he still receives from possibly well-meaning and yet still insensitive ‘fans’. With a similar name as Kirstyn (Dermott Mack being the name in the short story), one has to wonder what Kirstyn is hinting at, as well as using the title of Horn like the novella by Peter Ball (also published by Twelfth Planet Press) and the many references to the unicorns, being usually feminine creatures, being masculine through their use of their horns for bloody sports. There’s a lot to think deeper on for this one, but it’s also just too depressing for me to want to spend much longer on it.

Caution: Contains Small Parts

One of the creepier tales, a man received a wooden toy in the post with no clue who it came from, or why it’s been sent to him. With a slightly eerie bob to its head and a chewed section that looks like wherever it came from, it had serious teeth, he doesn’t give it much thought other than to get it out of his house as soon as possible… only for it to return that very night, in the dark, as he’s woken by a strange sound and overcome with thirst.

The plot is a slightly overdone tale – the creepy, possessed child’s toy – but McDermott wrestles it into something entirely her own, and wins completely. It’s the right amount of creepy – utterly believable and yet you can see why those around him think he’s over-reacting or going insane – from the outside it seems harmless yet to actually live it would be completely unnerving.

The ending of this one is possibly, somehow, even more satisfying than the first short story in the collection, which I really loved.

The Home for Broken Dolls

The last piece in this collection is novella length, and takes up almost half of the book. Jane has a home for broken dolls, like the title says. One morning she comes across another new arrival that’s been left against her agapanthus, crushing the not-yet-bloomed buds. As I read this one I realised I’d read it before, though I can’t remember if it was from the launch where McDermott read an excerpt, or through reading for Ditmas voting… either way, this story is still creepy and packs a punch as it unfolds. The research McDermott put into this story shows, and it works effectively to make you need a good shake and some daylight for a while.

McDermott is certainly one of our stronger authors in the Australian Speculative Fiction gang, and this collection is the perfect place to start if you’re new to her work.

This collection has the following mentions:

Honourable mention,  2014 Norma K Hemming Award

“The Home for Broken Dolls” – winner Ditmar for Best Novella/Novelette 2014

Locus Recommended Reading List for 2013 for Best Collection, Best Novella and Best Novelette

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