New year, new reads. Coming into the new year, my goal is to at least double the amount of books I read last year, which clocked in at around 48. Not a terrible number, but as the ‘to be read’ pile of books in the corner of my room grows I know I can bump that number up. I wanted to start this new year of reads off with a bang, and I thought what better book to do it with than Norman Prentiss’ new anthology book In the Porches of my Ears. Now I am somewhat familiar with Prentiss’ work, mainly his Bram Stoker Award-winning novel Odd Adventures with Your Other Father, nevertheless I was stoked to dig into this eARC (Advanced Reader Copy) that was burning a hole in my email.
While I enjoy reading any type of book, be it epistolary, historical, autobiographical, I think anthology books are my favorite. They are more palatable. You can read at your own pace, if you need to take a day or two off due to time constraints it’s easy to pick back up. You don’t have to worry that you may have forgotten a key piece of information from 100 pages ago. The thing about In the Porches of my Ears is that each story is as equally engaging as the last, leaving me to put off the majority of other things I needed to take care of because I just could not close my laptop. One of my biggest flaws as a reader comes from difficulties with my attention. As much as I may want to read something, I usually have difficulty focusing for more than 20 pages. This was not an issue with Porches by any extent.
To start, there are 17 stories of love, death, and dismay buried deep in these porches. These stories range from slightly dark and comical, to straight up depressing and raw. One thing I learned through reading this book is just how competent of an author Prentiss is. He knows when to tell you details, and he knows when to hide them deep within the subtext. There is never a moment of over-explanation, and he never talks down to the audience. A great example of this is what seems like it will turn out to be a drawn-out monologue in “The Quiet House”, that turns into a moment of two siblings finding a connection in the macabre. After a few paragraphs, I started to question the length of the monologue they were going through, but Prentiss found a way to wrap it up in a neat little bow, only to follow it up with grotesque images.
In Porches, Prentiss has a knack of leaving the readers in a state of fogged ambiguity. Nearly every story leaves off on a question. What will happen to Kenneth in “Burls”? What will be the world’s fate in “The Everywhere Man?” As someone who is a deep fan of authors and filmmakers letting the consumers fill in the respective blanks, this really upped my engagement of Porches. While I would like to try and give the characters the benefit of the doubt for a positive outcome, Prentiss’ overwhelmingly optimistic nihilism leads me to expect the worst.
When I was thinking about how to form my review for this book, I had a few different approaches in mind, but my big mental block was how to best describe the tone. Not to use this phrase again, but I just can’t help but feel optimistic nihilism in the tone. Each story has a perspective of hope behind it, it’s just whether or not that hope is really there, or that we’re simply seeing what we want to see. The titular story “In the Porches of my Ears” is the perfect example. While the story may not be the scariest of all, it raises the question: is it better to tell someone what they want to hear, or tell them the truth? In all honesty this story was the most emotionally gut-wrenching for me. The final story “Invisible Fences” does something similar, but in a completely different way.
One of the most impressive aspects of Porches is the pacing. Prentiss knows when to wind each story down so that it doesn’t overstay its time. The amount of adrenaline I felt with each story is something I haven’t felt in quite a long time with a book. While each story does a good job with carrying the flow of the book, I did have somewhat of an issue with the final story “Invisible Fences”. Nearly every story sticks to between 10 to 20 pages, each page chock-full of brilliant prose and imagery. The last story in the book, “Invisible Fences”, is nearly 100 pages long. Maybe this is something a lot of anthology books have; if it is, then it is something I have not been privy to. I spent the majority of the final story feeling very off. It wasn’t paced like the others, and really seemed like it came out of left field.
“Invisible Fences” acts more as a character study, and slightly a rebuke, of a nuclear family. An agoraphobic mother, a father who wants to fit a certain mold, and two children who have Stephen King-esque summer adventures. After an event occurs, the family decides to up and leave their home and move nearly halfway across the United States. The story follows Nathan and Pam from childhood to adulthood, how each child has taken a drastically different path in life. The story spends a very long time building up the love Nathan has for his mother, and the slight resentment he has towards his father. While the majority of this story examines the relationship between Nathan and his parents, we don’t get much horror. That is, until the very final pages. While this story may have supremely veered off path from the other 16 stories, it is still incredibly well-written, and tells a really emotionally charged story.
Although I’d find it incredibly difficult to pick favorite stories, if I had to then it would have to be “The Everywhere Man,” “Beneath Their Shoulders,” and “In the Porches of my Ears”. “The Everywhere Man” is sharp commentary on the 24/7 news cycle, and actually gave me nightmares. “Beneath Their Shoulders” is just incredibly entertaining, Prentiss really flexes his creativity with this one. And “In the Porches of my Ears” was just so heartbreaking and does a brilliant job at setting the tone for the rest of the book. As stated from the beginning though, each story here is absolutely fantastic. With In the Porches of my Ears being the first book I read for this year, anything that comes after this will have an incredibly high bar to live up to.
In the Porches of my Ears is set to release via Cemetery Dance Publications on January 24, 2023.