Paul Bibeau has a new collection of short stories, State of Fear. It’s 99¢ on the Kindle, and worth quite a lot more than every penny.
It’s easy to be disappointed by Paul Bibeau. After all, most people discovered him from things like I Was Shitting You People — A Message From Ayn Rand and “Help Me Hide These Bodies” By Willy Wonka. They are laugh-out-loud funny stories, so you figure that he’s a comedy writer. And then you pick up The Black Book Of Children’s Bible Stories or Trump Tales Of Terror, and you discover a very different writer.
I remember when I first got The Black Book. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. But I was soon won over by its clear, exacting style and implied horror. Bibeau is not a writer to jump out at you and yell, “Boo!” His approach is to inject you with a slow-acting neurotoxin until you’re afraid to move. He combines the Victorian ghost story’s precision with a postmodern sensibility. The writer and reader are partners. Bibeau rarely comes right out and tells you anything. He renders. What Anaïs Nin was for erotica, Paul Bibeau is for horror.
State of Fear
State of Fear is not horror. It’s much worse than that. The stories are about isolation. More specifically, they are about how isolation and fear feed each other. I’ve written before about watching schizophrenics and how terrified they are so much of the time because they just don’t know where the inside and the outside meet. Bibeau captures that sense fully. Mostly, he is fine with leaving it to the reader to decide what the reality is. This is most true of the highlight of this collection, “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.”
In that story, Charles “Charlie” Franck is a government interrogator — torturer, actually. And he snaps. Or does he? The truth is that not knowing is what makes the story so chilling. It’s also what makes it profound, because it doesn’t matter. Is there a vast conspiracy to keep us all at war with each other? Or does our civilization drive us all mad?
But the prisoner hadn’t said “Lakeview Mall.” He’d talked about an unnamed shopping center, and mentioned a nearby parking garage. And I’d immediately sketched out a picture in my mind of the shopping center that I would pick. If I did it.
Bibeau’s Thematic Clarity
It’s pretty clear where Paul Bibeau comes down on the question of the actual reality, however. He deals with the question more directly in, “The American Terror.” It is half essay and half narrative. The essay focuses on The Trial as well as Václav Havel’s experiences in communist Czechoslovakia. The narrative tells the story of a man trying to find his way to court on his bicycle for a minor matter, which literally becomes more grave as he cycles. It reminded me of Robert Cormier’s novel, I Am the Cheese, but in this endless bike ride, the world presses down harder and harder on the cyclist, and we know that his end will be the same as that of Josef K.
I could go on and on. Every story is a winner. “The Exceptions Virus” chronicles of spread of fear and isolation, but in the Bibeau world where the external and internal intersect in a most discomfiting way. Even when Bibeau is being blunt, as in “The Dream Wayne LaPierre Has Every Night,” the results are chilling. And the book ends with a poem, “Thanks for the Last and Greatest Betrayal…” It’s a history lesson — a reminder of who we are. But it’s also a prophecy: describing our dead future where all that is left are our Hollywood fantasies, beaming through space: “only ghosts and aliens will watch it go.”
State of Fear is very much worth checking out. It’s short — just 54 Kindle pages. But it’s easily worth ten times its 99¢ asking price. It gave me chills at least a dozen times.