"Who’s There?: A Collection of Stories" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Amazon Media
Written by Dimas Rio
2019, 173 pages, Fiction
Released on 16th December, 2019
I am always slightly suspicious of single author collections from writers who have published little else and often wonder if this is because they have suffered from rejections or whether they have just not bothered testing the water for potential anthology inclusions? In preparing this review I asked Dimas Rio this very question and he informed me that in recent times he had not been submitting his stories. This is a pity, as I am certain at least two of these would made it into print. Dimas has a very distinct voice, which authentically leans on his homeland of Indonesia and its superstitions for inspiration in the character driven plots. This is not a country many of us know much about and his take on its unique folklore and their belief system is something I would be keen to read more about.
The collection opens with the title story Who’s There?, which would not have been my choice to kick proceedings off with, as it is slow to get going and slightly too long; factors which might hinder casual readers off from exploring the collection in more depth. Hang in there though, much stronger selections lie beyond this opener. Who’s There? is built around four characters; Adam (the narrator), his old friend Angga, and Farah, who is the best friend of his fiancé Gita. The action is set some hours after a very big night on the town, which Adam has patchy recollections of due to consuming too much booze. When they meet up in the morning, Gita is absent, Farah is very frosty towards him and he begins to wonder what happened the previous night. The tale takes too long in meandering towards its conclusion and I saw the big finish coming a mile away. However, it does have its moments and anxiety levels are built nicely as Adam begins to feel more and more uneasy. A key scene near the end of the story will most certainly remind many readers of a big moment in The Shining, but to mention which one would be a major spoiler. It is very much a character-driven story, being held back by the fact that Adam is not the most sympathetic of men, but readers will certainly connect with the guilt which oozes from the pages along with the booze from the fateful night on the tiles.
The second story, "At Dusk", is a much simpler and significantly shorter tale which sucked me in quickly, but I was let down by what felt like a throwaway and rather rushed ending. It is the equivalent of someone jumping out and going “Boo!” This is a shame, as the build-up had caught my attention. The story is told in the first person by a high school student who has been sent to interview a well-known mystery novelist and is incredibly excited about this very cool assignment. Upon meeting the old man, the interview starts well until the author revisits his childhood and the story takes an unexpected turn. The back-and-forth between the two characters is engaging and the destination is nicely shrouded until the abrupt ending. This piece could easily have been played out over a few more pages, potentially with more build-up. Twist endings are bread-and-butter in short stories, often making or breaking the tale, but this one misfires slightly.
"The Wandering" is my favourite of the collection and I guarantee if Dimas Rio had sent this story out to prospective anthology editors, they would have bitten his hand off to feature it. The setting of this piece is outstanding; a deserted office block after most of the staff have gone home. This story features another rather unlikable and slightly sleazy young man, Badrun, who works as a night security guard patrolling the various floors. Badrun’s boss, Bang Azis, makes a brief appearance via their walky-talky system, as does Annisa, whom Badrum letches over before she heads home; otherwise he is the only character featured in "The Wandering". Early in the action we realise the 28-year-old cannot be trusted and is responsible for a series of petty thefts in the buildings and justifies the pilfering to himself by believing if staff are stupid enough to leave stuff lying around it is their own fault. Whilst on the prowl for his next booty to steal he reads a letter he finds lying on the floor, which leads to another letter. Bizarrely, the letters then seem to have some eerie resemblance to some circumstances in his own life. This is a very clever slow burner, which also features revenge as a theme, and once again, guilt is never far away.
I am also a fan of the rather melancholic "Voice Canal", which features a homesick young Indonesian man studying in Aberdeen, Scotland. Part of the reason this story touched me is because I am from the Aberdeen area and have not lived in that fine city since 1994 and occasionally feel a similar type of homesickness for ‘The Granite City’, as it is often known. I also laughed at the poor Indonesian students who just cannot handle the level of cold they experience there. The simple but moving story is built around the student Gio, who routinely fixes his flatmate Anggi’s computer and spends much of the story on a telephone call back to his father in Indonesia, who does not want him to visit until after his final exams. However, when the story moves to a group of other Indonesian students, we find out something startling about Gio’s family circumstances. This story also had a slightly abrupt ending, but the tone is pitch perfect and the finish nails the story.
The collection concludes with "The Forest Protector", which is the only story to have a split two-character narrative; Alma and her young son Rafa. The boy is too young to understand the issues his mother is going through, and he deals with this by escaping into a fantasy world connected to the figurine superhero toys he plays with. Alma, on the other hand, is struggling not to self-harm, which is revealed in the very powerful opening sequence, which then moves into the areas of domestic abuse. The self-harm plot drifts out of the story, which is a shame, as it is skilfully presented. Other than that, this is a convincing and thoughtful tale which tackles a difficult subject in a very sensitive manner.
There is much to enjoy in Dimas Rio’s Who’s There? collection and if you are looking to dip into an up-and-coming author with an international flavour or just want to try something slightly different, this is worth closer inspection. The strong Indonesian sense of time of place, the importance of family and honour, weaved with convincing supernatural elements make this a worthwhile reading experience.
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