Things I Didn’t Know
My Father Knew
The Best Short Stories of Peter Crowther
Sarah Johnson discovers Peter Crowther’s impressive short story range in his ‘best of’ collection, Things I Didn’t Know My Father Knew...
Peter Crowther is an accomplished author, journalist, editor, and publisher, and his fiction writing varies from science fiction and supernatural horror to crime thrillers and mysteries. Things I Didn’t Know My Father Knew: The Best Short Stories of Peter Crowther, published by Cemetery Dance Publications, is a generous collection of twenty-seven short stories varied in theme and content. In such a large volume, there’s much to appeal to most horror fiction enthusiasts, whether your interest is in tales of alien creatures or the horrors of hell our minds create. I was particularly impressed by the depth of character Crowther created in even the shortest of stories, and (more than anything) this carried me through the collection. Crowther’s skill in creating believable characters is key to engaging the reader in the events that unfold in each story. The horrors and joys these people experience stay in the mind long after the book is closed.
Numerous characters encounter the unknown as it creeps over the ledge of their domestic windowsills, invading their homes with horror – and sometimes joy. The titular short story, ‘Things I Didn’t Know My Father Knew’, is an example of the latter, and one I found satisfying both emotionally and intellectually. Bennett Differing lives a familiar life in small-town America, pondering philosophical questions – the past and future – beautifully summed up in the following passage:
‘Bennett took a sip of his own coffee and thought of something he had often pondered over: if a chair falls over in an empty house miles from anywhere, does it make a sound? Natural laws dictate that it must do but there were plenty of instances of natural law seemingly not figuring out. The thing was—the thing with the chair in the deserted house—there was no way of proving or disproving it . . . because the only way to prove it was to have someone present at the falling over, which destroyed one of the criteria for the experiment. So maybe whatever one wanted to believe could hold true.’
As fog invades his neighbourhood and home, Benett’s memories of the dead become flesh, which prompts the question: what are ghosts but memories?
Less pleasant memories are the subject of ‘Bedfordshire’. Unlike Bennett Differing, Thomas Bellings has few good childhood memories. His home was a site of abuse, as was his school. These memories intrude on his present thoughts as he nurses Helen, his dying wife and one of the few comforts in his life. As the past and present collide in Thomas’s home, it’s unclear what is real and what is memory. I desperately wanted a good outcome for this character, whose suffering seemed never-ending. The hell he experiences might be actual or the product of his thoughts, but either way, the horror of it endures. The quote from Samuel Beckett at the start of the story gives an indication of the contents, but as a fan of Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett, 1954), I’m often hopeful of a happy ending, even if I know it’s not coming.
Crowther uses excerpts from poems and plays throughout the collection as an indication of tone and theme; his knowledge of literature, art, and music is extensive. Poems also intersperse the stories, and the combination of poetry and prose is interesting. The story notes at the end of the book provide details about each story’s origin, but I’d also like information about the poems and other works cited. Since reading Things I Didn’t Know My Father Knew, I’ve added numerous poets to my reading list, not least the work of Weldon Kees which inspired ‘Too Short a Death’. The real-world mystery of Kees’s disappearance adds another dimension to that story, which is as much about enduring love as anything. Crowther does not shy from exploring his characters’ emotions, giving them depth and life.
The collection also delivers the enjoyable thrill of a well-written horror story, with ‘Eater’ being a highlight. ‘Eater’ was adapted into a 2007 short film of the same name by Matt and Ross Duffer, who went on to write and direct Stranger Things (21 Laps Entertainment / Monkey Massacre, 2016). The story effectively builds suspense as a cannibal stalks his prey through the 17th precinct building in New York, playing a game for which he makes the rules. I can understand why Crowther has a soft spot for Mister Mellor the cannibal; as he writes in the story notes, Mellor has no redeeming features, and – combined with his supernatural abilities – this makes him fascinating.
While Things I Didn’t Know My Father Knew features monsters, aliens, vampires, revenants, and cannibals, its defining themes are the human experiences of life, memory, and death. There is much that will horrify here, whether it’s through the characters’ mental or physical suffering. Yet the overwhelming impression is a collection that explores the human heart and mind in all its complexity, and an author who celebrates both.
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