Everything Is Fine by Steve Rasnic Tem, Omnium Gatherum
Reviewed by John C Adams
I love the frazzled cat and owner on the cover. It sort of sums up how I feel most of the time so I found it instantly relatable, which is a great starting point whenever you pick up a book. The cover set the tone for the gentle irony to follow, the sort that proves that, no matter how terrifying life is, we are still the most frightening thing out there.
In the course of a long, successful and prolific writing career, Steve Rasnic Tem has won the World Fantasy, British Fantasy and Bram Stoker Awards. This is an anthology of mostly previously published short fiction, and the index presents an eyewatering array of ‘Best of’ books and well-respected genre fiction magazines. The last time I saw so many august names grouped together in a long line was when I glanced into my email folder entitled ‘rejections’, but that’s a different tale. The majority of the stories were originally published back in the Nineties, with a few creeping in from this millennium. There were a couple of collaborations with his late wife Melanie, and it was lovely to see these stories again.
In ‘The Hideaway Man’, John and Dave are two buddies busy taking refuge in the sort of psychological denial that helps us all get through the traumas of childhood when the emergence of Dave’s dead father from underneath the bed forces John to confront the truth about his own father’s death in a car crash. Proof positive that there are terrifying things lurking under your bed with the added twist that this may not be such a bad thing after all.
I particularly enjoyed ‘Daddy’s An Actor’, possibly because my daughter wants to be an actress. The point of view character is the child, struggling to understand and accept it when their father uses the wrong name for them, possibly out of forgetfulness, possibly out of a lack of a settled sense of identity caused by flitting from one role to another. It was a poignant study of the consequences of creative endeavour and of the difficulty of keeping family life real when your day job is to be different people over and over again.
There were quite a few old favourites here, such as ‘Sirens’ and ‘Alan’s Mother’, plus plenty of stories I hadn’t encountered before such as ‘The Woman In The Attic’ and ‘The Snowmen’. Overall, it was a spine-tingling but compellingly honest portrait of how horror can turn into a whole-life experience: as subject matter to spark inspiration for an author, as lived experience for those of us just trying to get by, and as entertainment, too.
This book was also very understanding of the personal circumstances such as mental health issues or addiction that can be the spur for horror to engulf our lives. A thread of common humanity and decency lay at the heart of this work that was very welcome. I always enjoy Steve Rasnic Tem’s work and this was no exception.