Fear is so much a part of our lives that instead of running away from it, we’re finding ways to relax with it. Could it be through a true crime obsession that leads to stalking, or a camp song sung with murderous intent? Maybe it’s better suited in an unwieldy email chain, or making crafts with materials dug from the grave. It could even be as simple as petting a kitten—whether it’s truly a kitten remains far from simple.
Recreational Panic features twenty-one short stories, poems, and a guided meditation from Sonora Taylor. Sit back, relax, and feel your heartbeat quicken—it’s time to panic!
Recreational Panic by Sonora Taylor is a wickedly-entertaining roller coaster ride that offers up a smorgasbord of delectable horror shorts for your enjoyment. I’d like to extend my thanks to the folks at Cemetery Gates Media, and of course Sonora Taylor, for sending me a paperback ARC in return for an honest review. This beauty comes out on the 5th March 2024.
Recreational Panic is a fine example of what I’ve referred to time and time again as “Horror Tapas.” Taylor dishes up a tantalising spread of bite-sized horror treats, that cater to every palate. From heart-pounding flash fiction to haunting novellas to spine-tingling poetry, there’s truly something for everyone. Obviously when a collection has 21 shorts, they can’t ALL be hits. I definitely have my favourites (which I will tell you all about) but I can promise that the quality of writing throughout is absolutely on point, and I was generally impressed.
“Recreational Panic: A Guided Meditation,” is truly one of the best and most unique openings to a collection that has ever graced my shelves. It’s interesting because it’s interactive (without being tacky). As we read along, inhaling and exhaling, we (as readers of the macabre and disturbing) are forced to confront the unsettling truth: why do we find solace in horror fiction? Why do we enjoy reading about the misfortune of others? It’s an uncomfortable question, a discomfort that Taylor capitalises on. It’s two pages long, but thought-provoking, remarkable and it absolutely gripped me.
Something that really works in short story collections in an epistolary story. Collections and anthologies serve as fertile ground for authors to push boundaries and experiment, and I love seeing this reflected in terms of formatting. “Per My Last Email,” is the perfect example. We follow a rather passive-aggressive email interaction between colleagues Amaya and Stacy. Slowly but surely these emails evolve from petty to unprofessional to disturbing, and I loved it. There’s a teeny bit of an open ending (very Lisa Tuttle-esque), but it’s fairly easy to decipher what fate has befallen our protagonist.
I’d just like to briefly highlight “The Untended Field,” a page-long piece of flash fiction. There are no characters, no creature features, nothing particularly exciting. Taylor managed to draw out the terror within something as mundane and ordinary as a field, and genuinely scared me whilst doing it. The prose is consistently brilliant throughout all of the collection, but is particularly genius here.
My final standout is “Farm to Table.” Ecological horror is one of my favourite tropes anyway, but here, Taylor does it SO well. We follow Heidi, who is on the worst date of her life with Tate. He refuses to stop talking about himself, the restaurant lost their reservation, and the wine doesn’t taste quite right. Things can’t get worse? Right? Right? RIGHT?!
Recreational Panic emerges as a pulse-pounding, stand-out addition to the genre through its eclectic mix of stories and compelling prose. The collection explores the depths of human fear: from the haunting introspection of “A guided meditation,” to the atmospheric dread of “The Untended Field.” Taylor demonstrates she is more than capable of scaring you shitless in a myriad of forms, and I am eager to read a full length novel from her now. Prepare to be haunted long after the lights go out, Recreational Panic will leave you sleepless, questioning shadows and perhaps even peeking under the bed.