Unhinged is a collection of short stories in which horror and romance “merge like a match made in heaven . . .or hell.” All those included range from ghost stories, like Echoes and The Ghost in #9, to Incubus and Sluggo Snares a Vampire, to the threatening How I Met My Man and the chilling The Man from Milwaukee.
Despite being labeled as horror, Unhinged is not a collection which finds the reader cowering behind a cushion in fear, although each story has a point at which I felt an unwelcome apprehension. This is because of the clever way Reed builds his narrative, the majority of times making his reader feel safe with his characters and their relationships, and then unraveling this with events. Therefore, it is not only the characters and their lives that become “unhinged,” but the readers too.
Gay romance is certainly a strong theme that runs throughout each of these stories. Echoes and Incubus have established couples, Rick and Ernie and Oliver and Ryan respectively. In The Ghost in #9, Carter and Tony’s relationship is a secret affair; Sluggo’s encounters are purely online until he begins talking to someone called TepesAllure. Emory’s gay experiences are far more problematic and Stephen is seemingly very unlucky with the guys he chooses! As this suggests, not all of the stories in Unhinged have the expected traditional romance happy ending. In fact, the conclusions of Incubus and The Man from Milwaukee left me thinking “what the hell just happened?”
I have never been a huge reader of short stories, feeling that I could be left unsatisfied. In Unhinged, I did not feel that at all. Reed’s writing is perfectly adapted to the length of the stories and each not only has a different atmosphere, but the narratives are very separate. Both Echoes and How I Met My Man are written in first-person, but Stephen is a far more fun character than Rick’s introspective one. This works in these two stories because it is both Rick and Stephen who are directly affected, first by the ghost of Tommy and secondly by the intruder. However, I also think that in the other four stories the third-person narrative is just as effective, particularly in building tension.
Apart from the universal theme of relationships running throughout Unhinged, Reed also connects us to his stories through his introductions. In these, Reed explains the importance of the story’s setting, like the apartment in Echoes that gave him “a sort of Rear Window kind of feeling,” or the motel on Seattle’s Aurora Avenue in The Ghost in #9. Reed also talks about the influence of people, like his fascination with Jeffrey Dahmer, which inspired The Man from Milwaukee or the assortment of strangers he would see regularly on his L and Subway journeys in Chicago, who feature in Incubus. I feel that this personal touch from Reed, which even extends to giving himself, his husband, and dog a cameo role in one of the stories, not only allows us to relate further to events, but also succeeds in suspending our disbelief, which is an important tool when writing within the horror genre.
Unhinged is an interesting and compelling mix of stories by Reed and there was not one which I felt weakened the collection. Even though we are now closer to Christmas than Halloween, Unhinged is still a fantastic choice for anyone’s next read!