Layden Robinson’s Random Man is a collection of short pieces that are both grotesque and poetic. Although unsuitable for children and readers with weak stomachs, fans of Clive Barker or JJ Brine will find much to enjoy here.
You are going to be confused reading this book. The first piece, Freddy Fudtucker, is utterly bewildering until you come to the conclusion that it’s a surreal prose poem with a downright Pythonesque ending. This screwiness is intentional, therefore it is good.
My favourite story was The Source, about a young man who is unwittingly conned into absorbing a mysterious spirit that gives him artistic genius at the price of his sanity. I’d use the word Faustian to describe this situation, except that would imply consent. The Source hints at some pretty big themes, like the burden of fame, mental health and addiction. It would be worthwhile for Robinson to tease out these ideas in a longer version of the story.
My biggest concern about Random Man is the overuse of capitalized words. We see this the most in Consumed, which is about a man whose children are threatened be someone referring to themselves as The Beast. Dialogue in this story frequently breaks out into capitalised yelling, that varies between being alarming and absurd. Capitals are used much better in The Source, particularly when the spirit speaks to his victim in bold capital sentences.
There’s a fair bit of erotica here as well. I think Cherry Road describes the protagonist’s dying thoughts as he falls off a cliff, but I’m certain it involves him getting busy with a crimson entity before doing the same with a group of surprisingly carnal angels. The Emotional Puppet features sadistic women described as goddesses or amazons, and to call The Do Doots as swingers is a gross understatement. I was more baffled than aroused by these unlikely erotic situations, their sheer weirdness bringing to mind the Clive Barker’s stuff. If this sort of thing makes you uncomfortable I’d suggest skimming those particular pages.
(Another thing to note about The Do Doots: it’s set in New England, which between H. P. Lovecraft and Sylvia Plath, I’ve become convinced is the Transylvania of the United States. Every time that place comes up in a story, I expect that the characters will end up worse than they started.)
Random Man is honestly so strange that any reservations I might have about its use of capital letters or erotica is subsumed by my baffled admiration at how inventive the whole thing is. You should read this book if you enjoy horror, magical realism or bizarre literature, particularly if you’re the kind of person who actively seeks out unfamiliar genres of literature.