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Neil Gaiman
The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories, Volume One: Where on Earth
Ursula K. Le Guin
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Maud Hart Lovelace
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You Shall Never Know Security - J.R.  Hamantaschen Futile, all is futile. That's the message J.R. Hamantaschen bludgeoned into my head repeatedly while reading "You Shall Never Know Security". And why should I know security based on sentiments like the following from 'There's Always Something in the Misfortune of Our Friends that Doesn't Displease Us':

"These humans were a joke. It knew that much. Their petty, stupid worries, these worries that meant so much to them and so nothing in a cosmic sense. A job; a family; a social life. The external signifiers of a contented life, relentlessly pursued. And when they got them? Nothing. Their problems never went away. The successful man was always haunted by something: a reliance on others for affirmation of his worth; the fear of disappointing his family; the supple suspicion that his cushy life could unravel at any time, and then what? Where would everyone be then? And if it never came, something came. Death came. Pain came. It was always coming."

Sure, it's a negative moment, but consistent with the mood of the collection. Who was it that described life as a sexually-transmitted terminal illness? Such cynical quotes get to the core of ennui and hopelessness portrayed in these stories. Throughout "You Shall Never Know Security", Hamantaschen takes a number of insecurities linked to human experience, thought and behavior - failing at work, being overweight, experiencing bullying at school, being a loner in a crowded bar, dying tragically, coming out of the closet, underperforming academically, losing control of your bowels on a first date, and so on - applies his own fertile imagination, and spins horrifying tales of what's happening inside individual and collective minds.

It's interior landscapes that interest Hamantaschen most. Physical descriptions of characters are sparse. But the demented and disturbingly normal thoughts that go through people's minds? Readers are granted open access to these private spaces. What is the stranger sitting next to me at the wedding reception really thinking? What does the shrinking violet I make fun of at a party really want to happen to me? What's behind so-and-so's apparent altruism? Hamantaschen gives answers that I don't necessarily want to hear.

At the time of writing, Hamantaschen was 27 years old. His writing reveals inexperience at times. Does he need to use an avalanche of German and high point value Scrabble words? Probably not. Could another editor or two have scanned the work for spelling errors, omissions and duplications? Probably so. Do some narrators get a bit carried away with their "ooh ohhs" and "ahhhs"? Yep. But in the end, "You Shall Never Know Security" stands up as an impressive first effort of imaginative, extremely dark fiction.

'Wonder', 'Endemic', 'A Parasite Inside Your Brain', 'College' and 'Nothing' are my personal favorites. They'll make you run to Sartre and Kierkegaard for comfort!

Good stuff J.R.