It never ceases to fascinate me how different people can have such different views of the same story. As an example, Des Lewis liked James Cooper’s ‘Eight Small Men’ very much, whilst Jonathan McCalmont didn’t. I’m somewhere in the mddle of those two views, though falling more on the negative side.
Cooper’s narrator is Victor Farnsworth, who is visiting his dying foster father, Aubrey Bunce. The bulk of the story takes place a quarter-century earlier, when Victor and his older brother Franklyn lived with Aubrey, and Aubrey’s wife Edith (whom the boys called ‘the Matron’) and son Edwin (nicknamed Roach). The Matron’s household rules are strict and her punishments draconian; Roach gets his share of the latter, and in turn bullies the Farnsworth brothers — until, after one incident, tragedy strikes.
The key issue I have with ‘Eight Small Men’ is that, to me, it doesn’t manage to evoke the emotions underlying its events at the deep level which is necessary for the greatest effect. When I read about the treatment meted out to the boys, I reacted with disgust, as one would expect — but the feeling of what that was really like to the characters involved didn’t radiate from the page. Similarly, Victor’s major psychological transformation is portrayed ‘at a distance’, so its affect is weaker than it might otherwise be.
I also haven’t yet come to a satisfactory interpretation of the tale’s supernatural overtones (to which the title refers, though I won’t dwell on that). An iffy start to this issue of Black Static, then, but there are still four stories to go.