Edgar Allan Poe once observed in his essay, The Philosophy of Composition, that a short story is a piece of short literature that can be read in a single sitting. In other words, he was pointing towards the crispness, brevity, or terseness of this literary genre. However, his prime focus was on the aspect of time management in this genre of story-telling. The time frame that was assigned to a single short story by Poe was about half an hour to 2 hours at most of an individual’s reading time. In short, the short story may provide a quick means of escape into a whole different world of fictitious fun, but it is a genre that is quite challenging to write, keeping in consideration the space and time available to narrate the stories. Smita Das Jain, in her latest short story collection titled Twisted Tales and Turns: A Journey Through the Unexpected, reminds us of Poe, his evocative writing style filled with suspense and horror, and his overall significant and pathbreaking contribution to American Gothic literature. Nonetheless, the themes in Jain’s collection do not reflect only the supernatural but also have socio-psychological tendencies that provide ample room for detailed or analytical study of the characters. This adds a touch of the horror and chills of a psychological thriller collection. This book will be of particular interest to those who enjoy short stories, particularly thrillers or horror books.
Structurally, the book is divided into 4 sections, namely: Out of this World, Not Too Far Into The Future, All Doesn’t End Well, and Love Comes In All Hues. The first section takes readers through certain extraordinary worlds that need attentive deciphering to understand their ways of functioning. The second section is rather futuristic in its approach, while the third section has stories that are bent towards an emotional appeal while dealing with the mundanity of life, which from time to time brings forth surprisingly unordinary aspects. The final section is self-empowering in the sense that the stories deal with self-love and acceptance of one’s identity.
Each of these sections has five short stories. The titles of the sections indicate the broad themes under which the stories are written, and the thematic relevance of the question of illusion versus reality is maintained in the stories. This focal point does not deviate from the plots of the stories. Rather, it gets heightened to create a captivating and enthralling collection with stories set against the backdrop of an eerie atmosphere. This semblance may be seen in the form of a figure looming large but invisible to the naked eye, such as in the story A Figure in the Charpoy or an ongoing war that clashes with the onslaught of COVID- 19 in Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, which brings into question the issue of biological war and its deeper implication and aftermath. Other stories range from an artist’s struggle to create a painting that he intends to be his masterpiece to a pioneering woman scientist who tries her best to redefine the world through her scientific understanding and analysis.
The plots of other stories range from the case of a character’s unrequited love to the story of a womanizer who has his eyes on other women despite being married to a lovable lady. Despite being chilling in terms of the goriness and the ghastly attitude or mindset of some creepy characters, the book highlights the extent to which characters can go, which has the unpredictability of human behavior at its base. In this sense, the book is a brilliant collection of character sketches, both major and minor, but the characters are a handful and well-drawn with a sense of detailing that combines their reality and their pseudo personalities or personas. The fear in the heart and mind of the reader arises from this discovery of the twisted minds of some characters and the manner in which innocent people get helplessly victimized.
The writing style is intricately detailed but does not go overboard with the detailing. Some things remain as hints or silhouettes that add to the chill of the reading experience. The pace varies and is adjusted depending on the scene. However, the stories are not relayed in a hurried or haphazard manner, though it would be unfair to say that the stories are interconnected in any way. Each story is independent of the other and whole in and of itself. It has a specific beginning, middle, and end. What is interesting is not the captivating use of expressions and language but the ease with which ideas are expressed by the author to carve a niche for herself in the art of being expressive without saying too much. The core significance of this remains in the effortless blending of thought, characterization, and expression. The use of the English language is simple, with apt vocabulary and a detailed descriptiveness that allows readers to soak in the atmosphere of the stories as opposed to getting too involved in the crafting of the stories. Such a tactful deception hints at the genuine talent of the author, who combines simplicity with sophistication in narrating stories with plots that are highly unpredictable. It builds the suspense factor and heightens the entertainment quotient because the narrative takes endless twists and turns to reveal an end that cannot be easily guessed. Most of the stories, if not all, follow this pattern.
The characters include both major and minor ones. Each of the characters is drawn effectively with the right amount of detailing that is necessary to build the plot. They are given space in the narrative accordingly. They are made to perform certain tasks or engage in certain roles that define them, and the readers can immediately identify certain idiosyncrasies or characteristic traits that help to make one character different from the other. In this sense, the characters are differentiated from one another, just like the plots of the stories, which are not canned. On the whole, the collection is engaging and provides for a good one-time read.