Earlier this year I was asked to review Philip Fracassi’s Altar and, upon reading it, I became an instantaneous fan. It was a short little gut punch of a story that stimulated my fear receptors in a way that few stories can and made me realize that Fracassi was an author to keep an eye on, a master wordsmith who, while still in the process of finding his authorial voice, has a complex and creative mind and a style that is perfectly well suited to this literature of the darkness that we embrace as horror fans. But I was surprised to find that, when I sat down to write about that book, I struggled with it.....
The reason for this is twofold. First, because I always struggle to articulate my thoughts when I really enjoy a book because my brain wants to just begin gushing purple prose onto the page. Secondly, the book was completely unlike anything I had read before and I had difficulty figuring out how to introduce it without committing major spoilers in the process. As it turns out, that’s just how Fracassi rolls. Everything he writes is a completely new and wondrous experience, unique in content and in tone and always darkly entertaining. In Fragile Dreams, his newest work from Journalstone, he remains true to form, breaking new ground and moving in directions he’s never gone before.
Fragile Dreams tells the story of a man, Matthew Calvert, who finds himself grievously injured and buried beneath the ruins of the building he was in when a horrific earthquake hit and, while that tidbit of a description sounds pretty mundane and possibly even dull, it’s far from it, reading more like a methamphetamine induced punch to the inside of the brain pan. The thing you’ll notice right away when you read Philip Fracassi’s work—no matter what book you start with—is his uncanny deftness with character development and that ability is on full display here. This story is, of necessity, largely a character study, moving backward and forward in time as Matthew drifts in and out of consciousness showing us who he is in little bite-size memories, all the while building the suspense and terror with the present day sequences. It doesn’t take long to come to like and care about Matthew which serves the purpose of adding to the terrible horrors he experiences pinned down and alone in the oppressive darkness.
Weighing in at a slight one-hundred pages, Fragile Dreams is short in length but epic in content and immensely captivating. Philip Fracassi’s linguistic prowess is nothing short of brilliant, his love of language evident in every carefully crafted sentence, every paragraph constructed of some of the most gorgeous, poetic prose I’ve seen in a long time. Fracassi has a strong inner eye for imagery and sensation and it’s present here in technicolor brilliance. As you read his story, you can see, and hear the things that Matthew does and you can feel his oppressive, horrifically claustrophobic helplessness as if you were experiencing it personally. Fracassi has a strong grasp of the show-don’t-tell concept and he brings it to this story with marvelous alacrity, giving us an emotionally moving, powerful tale of creeping terror and ceaseless despair. I read this book in one, pulse-pounding sitting and there were several instances when I had to remind myself to take a breath, so intense was the imagery and the sense of a brooding horror there beneath the rubble with our hapless protagonist.
Philip Fracassi is a rising star in the firmament of horror ficiton, and he’s shining as brightly as a supernova in Fragile Dreams. If you haven’t read his work yet, I can’t recommend it enough. No matter where you start with him you’re going to have a hell of a great read but I strongly recommend you start right here. In a lexicon of brilliant stories, this is his most accomplished work yet and guaranteed to satisfy even the most hardcore of horror fans.
About Fragile Dreams
When a savage earthquake rocks Los Angeles, buildings crumble and highways fall apart. Matthew Calvert, a young family man on the job interview of his life, finds himself at ground zero of the destruction – his building collapses beneath him and he wakes to find himself buried under a mountain of rubble, badly injured, trapped in the dark.
As his injuries worsen with each passing hour, he clings to memories to fight off the fear of impending death, the hope for salvation. Soon, however, the memories turn dark and his terror escalates.
There are things with him in the dark.
Trying desperately to hold onto his sanity, Matthew clings to the barrier between this life and the next, his mind flipping between reality and delusion, before confronting a final horrifying truth:
Sometimes the hallucinations are real.
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