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Different Beasts by J. R. McConvey

Reviewed by Menaka Raman-Wilms

Different Beasts is a book that is both captivating and memorable. It’s a collection of short stories that feature a wide variety of different characters in unique circumstances. Running throughout the book is the common theme of beasts: sometimes the beasts are literal, such as a bear or monster, but often the beasts are lurking in more ordinary human forms.

The book is just over 200 pages and contains 12 stories. Each story stands on its own, independent from the rest, and explores a different kind of beast. The writing is both poignant and evocative.

Sometimes the idea of a beast is more complicated than it first appears in the book. This draws the reader into the stories because they’re never quite sure what next form the beast will take.

“Home Range” may best illustrate this idea. In this story, the union leader is immediately seen as the one displaying beastly behaviour, and it’s only at the end of the piece when the reader understands the main character is also capable of such cruelties. In this sense, the story also prompts the reader to reflect upon the characters’ motivations, and explore if actions are what define a beast.

The collection is filled with this kind of juxtaposition: obvious beasts are often presentedobvious beasts are often presented alongside those who exhibit more subtle forms of evil. This is evident from the very beginning of the book, when the first story, “How the Grizzly Came to Hang in the Royal Oak Hotel,” presents the easily understood beast against the less obvious. The bear trapped in the hotel is the literal beast in the story, yet the way in which two men respond shows that they can both be beasts in their own right.

It is this kind of multi-layered meaning that makes the book so enthralling. The reader is invited to reflect on what it means to be a beast and to also think about the often-common instances when evil emerges.

The unique circumstances of each story are also what make them memorable to the reader. Whether it be a child found in a shipping container or a small town obsessed with an Easter ham, Different Beasts creates a series of specific worlds that linger long after the story is finished. It is a collection not easily forgotten.

Different Beasts is published by Goose Lane Editions.

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