My Dead and Blackened Heart by Andrew Freudenberg.
Sinister Horror Company, HB: £15.00, PB: £7.99, eBook: £2.99
Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
In MY DEAD AND BLACKENED HEART, Andrew Freudenberg gives us a diverse collection of 14 short stories with multifaceted themes. Be it the subtle ambiguities of war and loss in tales such as HOPE ETERNAL, or the balls-to-the-wall splatter-punk of THE TEPPENYAKI OF TRUTH, this collection is a gift-wrapped, mixed-bag of original and reprinted tales with, ahem, heart.
In keeping with the simple interior artwork, Freudenberg is at his best when things are kept sparse. The minimalist narrative allows thought-provoking imagery to seep through into the reader’s psyche. Three stories have power because of this approach.
SOMETHING AKIN TO DESPAIR opens the collection and tackles the concept of sentience and artificial intelligence. This tale is reminiscent of Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains, the seemingly futile actions of an android continuing its duties on board a downed spacecraft as it perpetually awaits rescue.
CHARLIE’S TURN is set during the Second World War and we see the protagonist out in the woods with his elder brother as they track rabbits and witness a Luftwaffe bomber crash in a field. This is an unsettling tale of the dualities of war and the effect on youth. The abrupt ending leaves one questioning the story’s deeper meanings, which is never a bad thing in storytelling.
BEYOND THE BOOK is a bittersweet tale of a man who has outlived most of his friends, their passing marked by his declining interactions with them on social media. It is a warm-hearted story and ends the collection on a surprisingly optimistic note.
Such is the nature of collections I found some stories tapping the skin rather than leave the mark they should. From the publishing notes online, this collection is apparently intended to portray varied styles (or intensity) of horror in which Freudenberg enjoys writing. In this sense, I guess this has indeed achieved its aim. Some may question if the multiple style approach at the heart of this book leaves the more subtle stories above so at odds with their visceral companions it dilutes their core message. As collections invariably do, what stories readers prefer are ultimately down to a matter of individual taste.
Despite such personal observations, there’s still plenty to be excited about in this tome and, overall, MY DEAD AND BLACKENED HEART is a solid debut, imbued with creativity and confidence. As dead and blackened as it may be, the heart of this collection beats a self-assured drum for Freudenberg’s approach to short genre fiction.