I suppose I should have started reading Freaks already suspecting that the short story collection has a serious message to deliver, but it was only the book’s dedication that finally clued me in. That dedication reads: “to all who, if only for a moment, felt that they didn’t belong.” Well, as it turns out, the book is dedicated to all of us because we are all freaks and we all have super powers - whether we deserve them or not. But because so many of those super powers have the potential to ruin lives – and not just our own – the critical decision we have to make is how to use our powers.
Freaks is a beautifully packaged (in the guise of an old fashioned comic book) collection of fifty pieces of flash fiction. Some of the stories were written by Nik Perring, some by Caroline Smailes, and others are a combination of their efforts. In addition, illustrator Darren Craske provides mood-setting comic-book-style illustrations that add greatly to the fun.
Don’t get me wrong. There are stories here about people with “legitimate” super powers. One woman, for instance, can duplicate herself by spinning in circles. But even that story is really more about the little girl who has unexpectedly failed to inherit her mother’s ability to “photocopy” herself. “The Photocopier” is also a good example of the tone and writing style to be found in so many of these stories. This, for instance, is the girl’s reaction to seeing her mother throw off five copies of herself for the very first time:
“I swear to Christ it was the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen. There was me with wee in me knickers, with six of me mums standing there smiling at me like nutters.”
You have to love that image.
“The Photocopier” is the first story in the book and, if I am reading the rather disturbing little tale “Maman, Flying” correctly, that one comprises the perfect bookend with which to end the collection. Opinion about what really happens in this little five-paragraph story is likely to vary from reader to reader – and, for readers like me, from reading to reading – but “Maman, Flying” is the perfect offset to the comic mood of the book’s initial offering.
Freaks is a book about relationships – relationships between husbands and wives, lovers, potential lovers, friends, students, and parents and their children - all kinds of relationships. Some of the super powers described in Freaks will surprise you because you might already have one or two of them yourself. For certain, you know someone who has them, and you just might have had some of them used against you.
This one is fun, but there is more here than initially meets the eye. My fellow freaks are sure to enjoy it.