Little Black Spots: John F.D. Taff

I’m a pig. Give me something I like, such as a crate of lambic beers, and I won’t rise from the chair until I’ve drunk every last one of them. Chuck in a platter of various porcine parts grilled over smokey wood, and I shall not stir nor venture forth until all have been consumed. Some people criticise my approach, pointing out that had I savoured the various beers or pigs chitterlings, consuming one per sitting, I would have enjoyed them more. I tend to face those people, those critics of over-indulgence, and say one simple thing: fuck you.

I knew nothing of John F.D. Taff before picking up Little Black Spots. Dubbed the King of Pain by some, his recent collection attracted praise from many, including some people I tend to listen to (in other words, people who keep their traps shut about my consumption of fermented grain and bestial innards), so I figured I’d give it a go.

Attempt number one was handled the way I usually read collections: one after another after another. A few stories in, I didn’t feel I was getting the best from the collection. It wasn’t the book; it was me (honestly love). So I back-tracked and dipped in, savouring one tale at a time, and do you know what? It worked.

As with any collection, some of the stories are stronger than others. Of course, this is purely a matter of taste and preference. All are well crafted and eminently readable. What was interesting was many of the stories that seem to be well loved weren’t the ones that really grabbed me. For example, Purple Soda Hand earned a huge amount of plaudits from many readers, and whilst it was a good and entertaining read, it won’t stay with me for some time. However, Gethsmane, In Rain most certainly will. Haunting, subtle and intriguing, it left me wanting – but not needing – more.

Other personal favourites were The Coriolis Effect (Or, Chiromancy for Beginners), which I wish had been longer with more detail,  Everything Must Go, which really appealed to me with its simple yet powerful narrative, Just a Phone Call Away, because … well, just because, and The Bunny Suit.

Probably the story that most surprised me was Lincoln & Booth at the Orpheum. For the first few hundred words I struggled as to whether I could be bothered to read it or not, but suddenly I was hooked. I even missed a documentary I wanted to watch in order to see how it ended.

All in all, Little Black Spots worked for me. I felt it got stronger towards the end of the collection, while many other readers seem to indicate they preferred the earlier stories. I guess it just shows that there’s something for everyone. Now, if you don’t mind, I have some lambic beer and pig’s spleen to do damage to.

My totally biased rating is four ape’s heads.


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