Ideals are ever-changing, often unattainable, pipe-dreams. Love does not always conquer all. Fulfilling the role of “knight-in-shining-armor,” protecting everyone and everything he loves, is not always possible for the innocent and idealistic young man. Some failure awakens him from the sweet dream and a type of erosion of the spirit begins to take hold. As one matures, a fungus of sorts takes root in the depths of one’s heart. This insidious growth gradually spreads, forcing one to alter the ideals formed during the innocence of youth. Jeremy C. Shipp’s Fungus of the Heart, through its thirteen provocative tales, shows us the author’s own growth as a writer. The more light-hearted tales in his Sheep & Wolves collection, and even in his novels Vacation and the Bram Stoker Award nominated Cursed, have given way to more troubling and complicated stories, challenging the reader to ponder this Fungus of the Heart.
The book opens with a story called “The Sun Never Rises in the Big City,” a Blade Runner-esque story of class stratification and quite possibly a forbidden boundary-crossing love. The main character, Frank, is a human private eye, who “owns” a “rag” who goes by the name of Adelaide. She seems to distract him from both his wife and his job until she’s killed while accompanying him on a stake-out. It’s a solid story with a noir feel that leaves the reader to fill in the blanks regarding who these “rags,” and some Nymph creatures, really are, and what their place in society may be. The story conveys a message of love and life being both precious and expendable.
Another theme that threads through the book is one of vulnerability and one’s ability or inability to change a life situation. “Just Another Vampire Story” deals with a woman’s novel method of escaping a ruined marriage after learning of her spouse’s infidelity. While she is able to act and bring change to her life, we find “The Boy in the Cabinet” a bit less able to change his own living conditions until forced by the man who would ruin his best friend.
Fungus of the Heart is full of stories of failed chivalry, shifting self-awareness, and the search for inner truth (even if that truth is not what we want to know). Jeremy C. Shipp, as always, does a beautiful job spinning these subtle yarns into stories of gold.
Thanks, Jeremy, for another great read.