In Seth Fried’s The Great Frustration (Soft Skull Press; 192 pages), strangeness and morbidity are the rules, not the exceptions. Through a pastiche of bizarre worlds and landscapes separated by only one or two degrees from our own (which is, of course, already thoroughly frightening) Fried fashions telling scenarios and the nightmarish half-realities in which they occur. Deftly evoking a familiarity before diving into fantastical realms, the stories in this collection exhibit a surprising wealth of ideas belied by Fried’s spare prose.
“Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre,” a paralyzing allegory of modern-day groupthink, brings into plain view the ubiquity of violence in modern life: year after year, the residents of Frost Mountain gather for a traditional picnic — cotton candy, amusement rides, raffles, games, and everything else Americana — only to be struck, again and again, by lethal attacks. Despite the predictable continuity of harm, the townspeople return to be killed and maimed. Or, if they are lucky enough to live, their despair translates into a furious but ultimately futile activism. Downtrodden, the aging residents try to convince their children, the next generation, of the truth about the annual bloodbath of an event.