HUMANITY IS TARNISHED. First he gave us Little Deaths: The Definitive Edition. Then he unleashed his unique brand of pain in The End in All Beginnings. Now Bram Stoker Award-nominated John F.D. Taff — modern horror’s King of Pain — returns with Little Black Spots. Fifteen stories of dark horror fiction gathered together for the first time, exposing the delicate blemishes and sinister blots that tarnish the human condition. — A man stumbles on a cult that glorifies spontaneous human combustion… — A disgraced nature photographer applies his skills for a vile outcome… — A darkened city parking structure becomes dangerously and malevolently alive… — An innocent Halloween costume has a husband seeing his wife in a disturbing new light… — A ruined man sees far too much of himself in his broken family… — A young boy finds a mysterious bottle of liquid containing a deadly secret… — And so much more, including a preview of Taff’s upcoming apocalyptic novel The Fearing. Little Black Spots is a beacon shining its light into some of life’s most shadowy corners, revealing the dark stains that spatter all mankind.
- Title: Little Black Spots
- Author: John F.D. Taff
- Publisher: Grey Matter Press
- ISBN: 1940658845
- Publication Date: September 17, 2018
I’d like to thank Grey Matter Press for providing an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
This is the first John F.D. Taff work that I’ve read, and now that I’ve made it through to the other side, I understand the “King of Pain” moniker he’s earned. There’s an emotional depth to his work that makes sure his horror lingers…these are not just stories about fictional characters, these are stories about all of us. Reading Little Black Spots, the reader knows in their soul that they are not exempt from judgment. In this collection, Taff writes about: the violent extremes that people will go to in order to love or be loved; the hopeless isolation of working life; regrets, guilt, and the gaping hole inside yourself that never goes away; laughable helplessness in the face of temptation; the sad, horrible lives people lead behind closed doors; and, above all else, the relentlessness of fate. This collection leaves you with the feeling that whatever horrible thing is waiting for you — whether it is love that will literally cut you to pieces or an eldritch terror lurking in the shadows or something even worse — it is inescapable.
Each story is strong on its own, but in any short story collection there will be some that get under your skin a bit more than the others. There are two stories in particular that will stay with me for a long time. The first is “The Coriolis Effect (Or Chiromancy for Beginners).” I try to avoid spoilers as much as possible in my reviews, so I’ll use the delightfully vague summary for this story from the book synopsis quoted above: “A ruined man sees far too much of himself in his broken family.” Taff makes sure that the reader sees far too much of themselves in this broken family as well, with prose so soft and sweet that it cuts to the bone. I had to stop several times while reading to jot down quotes from the book; Taff has a talent for writing lines that make you catch your breath and go still, wanting to read them over and over again to recapture the feeling you had when you read them for the first time.
In the afterword, Taff mentions that “The Coriolis Effect (Or Chiromancy for Beginners)” was partly inspired by an event from his childhood, but I could already tell just by reading the story how deeply personal it is. It feels lived in and intimate in a way that few writers can achieve. I doubt that there are many readers who can relate directly to Taff’s experience (God, I hope not), but the story still feels uncomfortably familiar as it explores the gut punch sensation of revisiting childhood traumas and making unsettling connections as you realize what was really going on the whole time. The King of Pain reigns supreme here…we can’t relate to the specific situation at hand, but we feel the same emotions and recognize them in our own lives; when we realize that we feel such a strong kinship with such a monumentally fucked-up family, the horror of the story’s events becomes entwined with a sense of horror at ourselves and at humanity in general.
Not to be outdone in the “fucked-up” department, the second story that’s going to stay with me for a while is “Purple Soda Hand.” Here’s the deliciously vague summary: “A young boy finds a mysterious bottle of liquid containing a deadly secret.” Since it’s right there in the title, I’m going to be a tiny bit spoiler-y here and tell you that the mysterious bottle of liquid is purple soda and the deadly secret is a hand…floating inside the bottle of purple soda. To put it plainly, this story is weird and disgusting — two of my favorite things — but that’s not the disturbing part. No, what’s so disturbing (and impressive) is that Taff manages to write such a weird, disgusting story and still make me want to drink some of that damn purple soda. I’ve read the story, I know what happens, and I would probably still drink the accursed stuff. Taff is right; humanity is tarnished.
(Incidentally, when I realized that I just so happened to have a purple hand lying around my house for a photo shoot for this review, the evil laugh that emanated from deep within me would have made some of Taff’s characters proud.)
These are only two of the darkly poetic stories in this collection that hold up a cracked mirror to humanity’s face. I’m sure when you read Little Black Spots (I say “when,” not “if,” because I know you’re going to go out and pick it up now) you’ll find that other stories resonate more deeply with you than the ones I’ve mentioned. That’s the beauty, and the horror, of Taff’s book: no matter how horrific or depraved the stories are, no matter how much we may try to say otherwise, we still see ourselves on every page.
This is a brilliant collection of horror. I give this book 5 out of 5 coffins.