"False Bingo" Book Review

Written by Gabino Iglesias

Published by MCD x FSG Originals

Written by Jac Jemc
2019, 240 pages, Fiction
Released on October 8th, 2019


All a reader has to do to understand that Jac Jemc’s work is special is open her latest collection, False Bingo, and read the first story, “Any Other”. Coming in at three-and-a-half pages, “Any Other” is too short for me to offer you a synopsis without giving too much away. That said, I can tell you things about it that will explain why this collection is a must read: there is more dark humor in those three-and-a-half pages than in the 300 pages of the last novel I read, there is a twist that’s better than anything M. Night Shyamalan has ever pulled, and it creates a sense of tension that gets readers immediately hooked. Oh, and it’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

False Bingo is an amazing mix of genres. Yes, you could say this is a horror collection, but there is literary fiction, mystery, humor, and even a hint of noir in there. Also, the horror is not based on monsters; it comes from Jemc’s superb understanding of the darkness at the core of humanity. There are stories here of people doing bad things, but the ones that stand out the most have to do with people caught in bad situations, people trying to heal, and people suffering thanks to the idiocy of others. All the stories are unique, but Jemc’s eye for detail, the way she builds gloomy atmospheres even in places like a school bus, a bingo hall, a yoga retreat, and a doctor’s office, and her amazing prose all act as cohesive elements that give the book a sense of unity.

The opening story is a standout, but there are many more. I won’t talk about all of them here because that would make for a really long review, but here are a few words about some favorites:

  • “Loser” is a simple story about a young woman trying to fit in. It takes place in the cruel microcosm on a school, but the way Jemc renders the pressures and heartbreak of our teenage years are enough to cut your chest open, crack your sternum, reach inside your chest cavity, and squeeze your heart with cold, calloused, powerful hands.
  • “Bull’s-Eye” delves deep into the darkest corners of loneliness and pulls readers into a world that seems impossibly cold and glum but that isn’t much different from everyday reality.
  • “Half Dollar” inhabits the interstitial space where viciousness and humor merge into aberrant behavior that is somehow not uncommon, and the story does so through two young girls, which are usually characters horror authors like to use as victims. This one is like a nuclear bomb dropped into the core of that trope.
  • “Manifest” is a master class on building atmosphere. It also explores a tense sibling relationship while stealthily submerging readers in the psyche of a lonely woman who needs to have a mole removed and who may or may not be slowly flirting with insanity.
  • Finally, there is “Get Back” which…just read this passage and then go buy the book:

I believe in the permanence of the tide. I conceive of an inundating gravity. I find within myself a belief that the turning, trawling wins of mortality should be turned upon the unworthy. I call myself a fluctuating compass of destiny. There is power in the fall of these verdicts. There is a price to such dismissals. The fields sigh with their chorus of pity, as the open land becomes dappled with the freshly turned soil of graves. It is only a constant chronology that has brought us here. Death is but a scar. I empty the clocks. I swallow the skeleton keys.

Jemc’s previous book, the novel The Grip of It, helped cement her as one of the most unique and exciting voices in fiction regardless of genre. False Bingo is a box full of treasures that further prove her status and show that she no one writes about creepy domesticity, the bizarre darkness in everyday life, and the strange places where the small cracks of our psyche meet the harshness of the real world quite like she does. False Bingo is a love letter to writing that, like the work of Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, and Lauren Beukes, shows that the space between genre is perhaps more exciting that what each genre has to offer individually as long as the writer trudging that space is willing to allow darkness, weirdness, and uniqueness to flow as freely as possible.


Overall: fourstars Cover
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