Winner of the International Book Awards for Best Short Story Collection, The Gothic Shift is a beguiling collection of the macabre and supernatural from best-seller Brian David Bruns.
"The Gothic Shift" begins with a man who comes into a restaurant every day to gulp down vast quantities at the shrimp buffet, while his forlorn waitress seems to gain weight on his behalf. Here Bruns achieves a delightful balance of whimsy and the grotesque, with a glimmer of moonstruck romance.
"The Finger People" is a fine study of Civil War squalor and carnage - spotlights the Union attack on the Confederate stronghold Fort Henry. A timid rebel cook discovers something even grislier than the usual horrors of war: ghouls feeding off the dead...and the living.
"The Ghost of Naked Molly" takes us back to old New Orleans on the eve of the Louisiana Purchase, where the ghost of a gorgeous octoroon slave mistress complicates the political schemes of a local grandee by parading around his house in the nude.
"The Penultimate Mr. Nilly" visits the crew of a ship stuck in the Arctic ice in 1859 as they slowly go mad from hunger. The ultimate solution - prompted by a stitched, velveteen toy wolf - gives a completely new twist on survival of the fittest.
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- Turning Another Page
The Gothic Shift
Not a fan of long, drawn out stories, but maybe short and sweet is up your alley? These four stories are short, but they are anything but sweet! Bruns shares four incredibly peculiar and fascinating short tales that will have readers begging for more. While not necessarily seeming to be horror, imagine the Stephen King era of writing and you can definitely apply that type of thinking to these four stories. Now, they would probably be classified more as thrillers or supernatural suspense instead of horror, but that is due to the ever-changing need to be bigger, badder, creepier, and scarier. The four stories that belong to The Gothic Shift are The Ghost of Naked Molly, The Gothic Shift, The Finger People, and The Penultimate Mr. Nilly.
With The Ghost of Naked Molly, the reader is taken into historic New Orleans, where a man finds his residence hiding very big secrets, including the one and only Naked Molly. She comes and goes, leaving breadcrumbs in her wake of why she is still tethered to haunt his mansion. Bringing some powerful men in and out of the mansion and making deals that will set New Orleans in the race to power is how he meets Horace. Horace, an old geyser, becomes obsessed with Molly and attempts to get into Diego’s good graces enough that he may have a shot to bed Molly. Diego, knowing that it can only end up one way, desperately tries to prevent Horace’s death and in turn, prevent his own, but have the cards already been dealt for them both?
Reading The Gothic Shift, you are immediately wondering why this name fits this story. While it is never blatantly obvious, it is clever at best. In this short tale, a young woman waitresses so that she can earn enough and leave the lowly life that she has to become an actress. After noticing a kind gentleman who has made an appearance at her uncle’s restaurant, only to eat an absorbent amount of shrimp, she becomes consumed with this man. Why does he keep coming in and piling up on the shrimp? Physically gaining weight for the first half of the month, she finds him fascinating and repulsive at the same time. How would a man have this much time on his hands to sit there day in and day out, eating so much shrimp. Then, as if by magic, the man starts to lose the weight and the more consumed she is by this man, the more weight she gains. What will happen to her if this man continues to plague her existence? Should they stop selling shrimp so he can’t come in? How will she hide the monstrosity of everything that she has become over just two weeks?
The Finger People (Swamp Hive) was a bit confusing at first, but does actually get a little more horrific than The Ghost of Naked Molly and The Gothic Shift. Frank looks up to only one man, his life saver, as they are led into war, the American Civil War, that is. Jimmy is the man that Frank idolizes and when Jimmy comes to him needing help, Frank is right there offering his assistance. This time, something is different though. These people they face are just soldiers, but the ones that come out after a day of death among the fields, these are different. They may not even be people at all. These people make the war seem easy to fight against. How will Frank get out of this predicament and more importantly, how will he get Jimmy out?
The Penultimate Mr. Nilly is the final short story, taking the reader onto the Blue Caribou and what a ship this one is – that has been cursed, per say. In the mid 1850s, the Arctic is dank, cold, dark, and by far hopeless. The men aboard have to face terrible disease and starvation, but when their captain passes, if just becomes almost unbearable. One man takes it upon himself to lead this crew out of the depths of despair, but little does he know that his madness is just rising to the surface. Something has taken a hold of him and doesn’t seem to want to let go until it has claimed his life and the life of the men he wanted to save. This one will remind readers of The Shining by Stephen King, with the slow descent into madness being prevalent in this story.
Overall, the narrators were successful in filling each story with mirth and suspense. Readers will have four seemingly well-written short stories to choose from for their favorite and all of them have a different twist. This ignites creativity and ensures the reader will not get bored easily. If you are a reader of short stories and supernatural suspense and thriller genres, you may find these to be to your liking. An audiobook was provided to Turning Another Page by Audiobookworm Promotions and in no way affects the honesty of this review. We provide a four-star rating to The Gothic Shift by Brian David Bruns.
Perfect collection of slow burn stories
The Gothic Shift is a perfect slow burn story collection for the Halloween season. Each tale builds the suspense leading up to the final, sometimes surprising, horror. There are 4 tales contained in this book but I’m a little confused at the title for each story – Audible has one set of story titles and GoodReads has another. Story 1: The Ghost of Naked Molly. Story 2: Wax and Wayne (aka The Gothic Shift). Story 3: The Swamp Hive (aka The Finger People). Story 4: Blue Caribou (aka The Penultimate Mr. Nilly).
My two favorites were The Ghost of Naked Molly and The Swamp Hive. I felt The Ghost of Naked Molly really captured the American Gothic horror tale. Part ghost story, part historical fiction, the story really does a great job building the suspense. Set in New Orleans in 1799, the city is in transition. Many of the rich and powerful are wondering who will end up controlling the city. Plenty of backroom deals have been made over the years by these rich men who are trying to retain property, wealth, and power. While the story puts a lot of emphasis on Molly’s sexuality, she’s also a mysterious and powerful figure. I liked that the men who would continue to use her don’t get what they expect. Ha!
The Swamp Hive was really intriguing. While I was sucked into this tale right away, I really had no idea where it was going. I love being surprised! Set during the American Civil War, Frank owes his life and current station in the military to Jimmy, who is something of a local hero. Frank is driven to face his numerous fears and do what he can to help Jimmy out. I did not see that coming! I don’t want to spoil it so just know it was deliciously creepy and somewhat alien.
Wax an Wayne didn’t do much for me. Set in modern times, it involves a buffet with lots and lots of shrimp. Fat and skinny are the strong themes in this book. Most of the characters were whiny and that is what turned me off of this particular story. The waitress focuses a lot on her looks (no matter her size) as does her own body-obsessed boyfriend. In the end, I think I missed the point as I left this story feeling like it needed a little something more to make sense.
Blue Caribou was good but not stellar. I do love a good survival story and this one is set in the Arctic in the mid-1850s. It’s dark, cold, and the crew can’t expect assistance any time soon. A bit of luck provides some seal meat but the crew is starting to suffer from scurvy. This was a fun little tale even though it wasn’t my favorite.
All told, there are very few women in this story collection. There’s Naked Molly (and we get to hear all about her nipples several times), a sick house slave, and a whiny waitress. I would have liked to see more female characters since women are everywhere. Besides that, this audiobook was a delightful way to spend a day as I decorate for Halloween. 4/5 stars.
The Narration: Scott Bennett, Brittany Morgan Williams, Thomas Stone, & Gary Furlong really brought these tale to life. Each one did a great job. Bennett was great at French and Spanish accents as well as being a senior citizen with way too many lascivious thoughts. Williams played a whiny and figure-obsessed waitress quite well. I loved how she captured the steroid-popping boyfriend to a T. Stone was magnificent as Frank (who is a little mentally challenged). Furlong (who I have enjoyed on other audiobooks) brought his quality performance to this Arctic story. The pacing was perfect and there were no technical issues with the recordings. I was impressed that the volume from story to story didn’t vary, as so often happens with individual recordings. 5/5 stars.
I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Brian David Bruns. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.
- Hall Ways
Dip your toe into the macabre
HALL WAYS REVIEW: Audio Book Review. As summer turns to fall, and cooler temperatures start to creep in, there’s nothing better than having spooky tales to shift the mood from sunny to somber and get in that Halloween frame of mind. For those who only want to dip a toe into the macabre world, short stories are great bang for the buck. The Gothic Shift is a perfect book for getting your creep on and includes four novellas, each with its own narrator, each horrific in its own unique way. The full audio book clocks in at under ten hours, but since there are four stand-alone stories, you can listen and leave it between stories. But you won’t want to -- I started listening at the beginning of a four-hour drive, tucked it in my pocket while I unloaded, and finished it as I sat at my desk and got to work.
“He wore a brown quilted waist coat
that was deplorably unfashionable.”
For readers who enjoy a good ghost tale, “The Ghost of Naked Molly” will provide sufficient chills (and some unintended laughs if your son’s girlfriend happens to be named Molly). Readers meet Diego, a snobby, judge-y rich guy who lives in a haunted house, and Horace, a sixty-year-old, hot-blooded Yankee opportunist who is interested in carnal relations with Molly because, duh, she’s beautiful and naked. For some reason, Horace fails to see past the nudity to realize Molly’s dead (eyes up, Horace) and becomes obsessed with having his way with her -- if only Diego will present her to him to do the deed. It’s 1799, and some people are objects, not humans, and they are to be traded and sold, not considered. That’s scary enough, but what author Brian David Bruns does to give readers the creepies is slowly build the story around that premise and the suffering of those who are objects -- and how one gets her ghostly revenge. Sadly, the revenge doesn’t feel too sweet – justified, yes, but there is no real resolution when you are this ghost. This story left me melancholy. I am not sure which of the three male narrators performed this story, but he performed several different accents and made it easy to tell who was speaking, and his spin on each voice guided the listener to specific feelings toward each character. On this one, listening at regular speed was a little too slow, but 1.25x was a little too fast.
“Dead isn’t against the rules. Trashy is.”
The second story is “The Gothic Shift,” and it is my favorite of the four. Brian David Bruns skillfully describes the characters so that readers/listeners have an excellent visual of each. Paired with the narration by Brittany Morgan Williams, each of the characters becomes even more realistic and defined. In hindsight, the story was reminiscent of Stephen King’s Thinner (though “The Gothic Shift” would be Fatter) with the feeling of a curse being fulfilled time and time again. There are stories within stories in this one, and Bruns gives readers snapshots of the characters that are enough for us to fill in a bigger picture. The mysterious Mr. Armand, whose size waxes and wanes, is at the center of the story and is quietly driving it to the satisfying resolution (though I needed a little more information because I couldn’t quite put two and two together). This story is sprinkled with humor and sarcasm and subtleties that make it delicious – even as we are repulsed by the gluttonous habits of Mr. Armand. While “The Gothic Shift” doesn’t provide horror through ghosts or blood and guts, the unease of knowing of the existence of powerful and misunderstood forces in the world is what keeps you listening. The narrator was well-cast for this story, and other than a few odd pronunciations, she nailed the performance. Her pacing was perfect, and I listened at regular speed. (Side note: every time she said an exasperated “Waaaayne,” for me it conjured up Stacy from Wayne’s World. Ha!) Another favorite quote: “Misery enjoined them both in a group hug.”
“Who knew what secrets lay beneath those choppy waters? Untold horrors were right below him, unseen, waiting.”
The third story is “The Finger People,” and though initially I thought it would be my favorite, it ended up being my least favorite because of the holes, awkward transition to the climax, and then a flat resolution. But don’t skip it. Even with the flaws, there is a lot there, and the memory of the story sits in a fog around you because the author’s gift for descriptive writing brings the scenes to vivid life. There are two different kinds of horror happening in this story: the very real horror of the Civil War and the horror of nightmares with creatures who feed on the dead. These two stories operate independently for the most part but with some overlapping because war kills, and death brings the creatures. Both stories were equally fascinating and repulsive, as seen through the eyes of our main character Francois…or Frank…or Francis, who isn’t clearly defined. Is he very young or just very innocent? Mentally impaired or uneducated? All or none of the above? He definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer, and we get glimpses into his past that show he always has, but I needed a little more there, and the ending was a bit of a let-down. The narrator for this one is very good, but he has an interesting version of a southern drawl, and his pronunciation of many words (anything with an “ou” sound like in “out” or “about;” huge was “yuge”) leads me to believe he’s not a southerner. Whether you hear the difference or not, he’s perfect in giving distinct personalities to each of the characters, and his pacing is perfect, so I listened at regular speed.
“The Arctic could not be explained, just experienced.”
The final story in the audio book is “The Penultimate Mr. Nilly,” and it would probably be my favorite if it had been placed earlier in the collection. But I do really like this story, not just because “penultimate” is a favorite word of mine, but because it was psychological and realistic/situational horror. The story is one of love/hate for me because it was so dark and dismal -- my emotions paralleled those of the crew of the ship and we all – crew, ship, and I -- were sinking from the get-go. The story is full of doom and gloom and when a small, speckled ray of hope manages to appear, the horror of man’s descent into madness shatters all things good in life. In this story, author Brian David Bruns again gives the readers descriptions that put them in the middle of the setting, but his characterization is top notch. As the main character descends into madness (à la The Shining), the dread drapes itself over the readers. Paired with the narrator, who masterfully performs a variety of accents of the international crew members, readers leave the story – and the book – feeling weighed-down in tragedy and loss.
Having seen the order of the stories in the print version, which would leave the readers feeling up instead of down, and given the audio-only issues created with the choice for the first story (see below), I am stumped at why the stories were arranged differently for audio. In any case, I do recommend listening to The Gothic Shift to get immersed in a variety of eerie stories that will stick with you and creep back into your brain well after you’re done listening.
ABOUT THE AUDIO BOOK: My only real complaint is that this audio book and I got off to a rough start. Since I read Gothic Shift with my ears, and didn’t have the benefit of a table of contents to show me the names of the stories or structure of the book, my son and I (road trippin’) had a bit of confusion when we first began listening. In the audio version (which I now know is ordered differently from the digital print version), the first story is "The Ghost of Naked Molly." Readers first hear the name of the story, then, “One,” then “Two,” then “Mississippi Fog,” then “Dead Man’s Diary,” then “One,” etc. The sub-chapter numbers were unnecessary and took us out of the story - and we even thought a time or two that we were starting a new story. Old school audio listeners would have pulled out the CD case to see what was going on. With digital, I was so lost that I looked up the book on Kindle, peeked at the “Look Inside” feature, and reviewed the table of contents (helpful!). Some verbal cues from the narrator to signal chapter and sub-chapter shifts would have helped a ton. (For example, saying “Chapter one, part two” and then, “Chapter two: Mississippi Fog.”) What’s puzzling is that in the print book, "The Ghost of Naked Molly" isn’t the first story. If the audio had just stuck to the same order as the print, the confusion would have been eliminated because TGONM is the only one of the stories that has the funky sub-chapter numbering system. (It’s perfectly fine and not funky if you’re reading with your eyes and not your ears.)
Thank you to Audiobook Promotions for providing me an Audible code in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.
- Amy C
The Gothic Shift
The Gothic Shift is a collection of some creepy tales. I found them to be fun stories. My favorite was The Ghost of Naked Molly, which is set in late eighteenth century New Orleans. I had the pleasure of listening to the audible version of the book. There are four narrators: Scott Bennett, Brittany Morgan Williams, Thomas Stone, Gary Furlong. Each one did a fabulous job bringing the terrifying stories to life.
I am giving The Gothic Shift four stars. I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy disturbing, frightening, ghoulish and weird tales. It is a perfect fit for Halloween reading.
I received this book from the publisher. This review is 100% my own honest opinion.