State of Fear: Excellent New Short Story Collection

State of Fear - Paul BibeauPaul 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?

How are you going to get me to murder more than 300 people at the Lakeview Mall? That’s what I thought.

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.

14 thoughts on “State of Fear: Excellent New Short Story Collection

  1. 1: This sounds great. Any way to buy it and read it without a Kindle? I have IBooks on my phone, but the only Bibeau they have is the vampire one, I already read that.
    2: Did the “College Humor” bit on Rand and Hubbard steal from him, or did he expand on the bit?
    3: The Willy Wonka bit is profoundly hilarious. I have to think that’s not taken from Dahl (whose kids’ stories were far less scary than his grownup ones) but from Wilder’s genius performance as Wonka. It’s the best thing Wilder ever did, in a largely slop movie that he saves with his spooky-eyed intensity.

    At one point, I had a whole video planned in my head around “Pure Imagination.” W is dozing off during a Cabinet meeting. Fog seeps under the door. He sleepwalks out the door and meets Wonka, who sings “Pure Imagination” about Iraq. Mosques turn into McDonalds, historic sites into oil derricks, it’s a fantasy come true. Then the dream lifts and W has to drift back through the fog into the meeting: now inspired.

      • You are a kind and good man, Paul Bibeau! For the record, James is also a contributor here. He’s really good. I have a bunch of his stuff that I haven’t gotten around to editing.

        James: did you hear that?

    • 1. See Paul’s response.

      2. Paul could answer that. But if you look at the original post, Paul is listed as co-writer. I think he also dated Tina Fey in college. Or was that a joke? I don’t remember.

      3. You know: I haven’t read the book since I was 10, so I don’t remember how it differs from the film. (Anyway, James and the Giant Peach was always my favorite.) So I don’t know. It certainly does apply to the movie, however. The story wouldn’t be as funny if you imagined Johnny Depp’s version of it, because it would fit the character too well (even if we actually see those children leaving at the end of that version).

      Your imagining reminds me of Dylan Moran’s joke about how American imperialism works with us just coming in and building a Starbucks around the people talking.

      • Everything I wrote about the weird Tina Fey period was the exact truth as I remember it. “Dating” doesn’t really describe it, but it’s okay for shorthand. We were nerds together.

        I love that we’re talking Roald Dahl, because I love his dark thriller stories. A couple of them were turned into shows on the Alfred Hitchcock program. And I remember reading something from one of the creators of the movie Sinister talking about how they wanted their villain to have a Willy Wonka feel.

        • I keep meaning to go back and look at some of that old Hitchcock show. I love watching all the actors in “Zone” who were kind of the Christine Baranskis or Stephen Tobolowskis of their day; reliable pros who never became stars, yet always found work because they were good. Haven’t seen the Hitchcocks since I was a wee bairn.

          My favorite bit of Dahl screenwriting is “You Only Live Twice.” Not because the story’s any good — it’s nonsensical — but because Dahl seemed to have a blast with the formula. “Hmm, I’ll kill off faceless characters in creepy inventive fun ways, and let’s see if the producers will build a fucking Secret Hideout Inside A Volcano.” And they did! It’s like crashing a real subway train in “Skyfall.” Why? Because we CAN. Ah, movies.

        • For people of our generation (this blog is so 40s-50s), Roald Dahl was so important growing up. I don’t know if young people still read him. Or Norton Juster. Or E B White. There seem to be fads. I tried reading Harry Potter but couldn’t get into it. That’s nothing against the book. I suspect that if I were ten I would like it. And I wonder if I would like James and the Giant Peach now. I recently read Charlotte’s Web again. It had me sobbing at three different points. At the same time, I was underwhelmed with it as a book. I guess I’m afraid to revisit James and the Giant Peach, given what an important role it played in my childhood.

          • The Potter books depend on one’s tolerance for adolescent hero-fantasizing (mine is low) and for mystery novels of the old, Christie/Queen variety (mine is high). If those two genres leave you cold, they’re not going to be up your alley.

            I can’t really think of books I read as a kid that I’d want to revisit now. Largely because I was a very insecure kid, I kind of avoided children’s books — I wanted to be a grownup. So I got into old sci-fi in a big way. I have gone back and looked at some of those, and it’s interesting reading them as an adult. The ideas are still cool — I think I like them even better now — but the prose is kinda bad in most. I’m less bothered by that now than I would have been at 35. Not everybody has to be Henry James. Thank goodness!

      • That Moran bit is borderline offensive in so many ways. But he gets away with it because, let’s face it, an Irish accent is the most lovely way to speak English. Oddly, his Wiki page lists his performance in “Calvary, an Irish black comedy drama film.” Huh? Comedy? I guess.

        Best accents for English:

        1. Irish
        2. Welsh
        3. Scottish
        4. Any non-native English speaker
        5. French-Canadian
        6. British (Cockney, modern-day working class, or BBC/Ian McKellan)
        7. Brooklyn/Boston/Jersey (“you wanna bicycle for your birthday? Here’s your fucking bicycle, right here”)
        8. FDR
        9. Kiwi
        10. Australian
        11. Real American Southern accent
        12. Bland American/Canadian accent
        13. Phony American Southern accent

        This list is final, and cannot be adjusted. My word is law on these matters.

        • Moran gets away with a lot because he always seems drunk. And he does drink wine throughout his performances. I thought he was great in Calvary (My thoughts: Calvary and the Lost Art of Forgiveness.) because he plays a psychopath. That’s basically his character in stand-up and on Black Books. Of course, Moran can say that about Starbucks because he isn’t American. But he can also say it because his comedy is surreal.

          I can do Richard III with a southern accent. I think it’s funny as hell. But don’t worry. I’ve printed your comment and hung it above my monitor.

          • Pardon the confusion. By phony Southern accents I mean those TV personalities who adopt a drawl to make them seem more “country.” They sound terrible. Whereas parody versions are awesome. Bill Hicks used to do a great redneck voice.

            Mah kingdom for a hoss! I love it. But you know it should really be a British cast. Shit, they can do American accents better than we can.

            • You know, it’s hard to get the southern accent into that one. My southern accent is so dependent upon pacing. For example, I say the beginning, “Now… is the winter of our discontent… Made glorious summer… by this sun of York.” I remember hearing of an American actor who went to London to perform some Shakespeare play. And during the rehearsal, he did the whole thing with some kind of American accent. But since he was a big star, no one bothered him about it, even though they were terrified. But at the performance, he performed the part with a proper British accent. It was apparently, his little joke — trying to live up to the low expectations that the Brits normally have of the Yankees on matters of culture. It could be apocryphal. If I could remember who the actor was, it would help. Someone I associate with Charles Laughton, but, obviously, American.

              British actors do accents better than American actors. This is because the British actually teach acting and they haven’t been soiled by “the method.” Just the same, they ain’t all that good. Helena Bonham Carter, for example, slips up all the time.

  2. I will absolutely buy this. When I first got hooked on Paul’s blog I think I read the whole thing. His early five part (I think) story The Reckoning is as good as any Edgar Allen Poe I’ve read. His short novel The Big Money, about a struggling magazine writer, is really fun as well.

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