Cemetery Gates Media, 2022. ISBN: 9-798419-886308. Pp., 259.
Eerie. Contemplative. Slow Burn. Oddly Familiar. These were some of the phrases I scribbled on a piece of paper while reading Burn The Plans, the new short story collection from Tyler Jones. I became familiar with Jones’ work in the Burnt Tongues anthology released in 2014. After reading his contribution “F for Fake” about a man who appropriates another author’s identity, I knew I had to get my hands on more. Burn The Plans was just the thing to satisfy my latest craving.
Jones has a knack for capturing voices, and stories like “Trigger” and “The Golden Rule” show off his skillset. The first is told through the eyes of a country boy while the latter is presented in the broken, cadenced rhythms of a non-native English speaker, “almost a form of poetry [in itself],” according to Jones. Children, the elderly, men and women, parents and teens on the run, suburbanites and immigrants hiding away in small enclaves: these are the varied characters that Jones gives readers, momentarily inhabiting their worlds through attention to voice, viewpoint, and language. For my taste, pieces like “Corporation,” in which a man confronts a bloodthirsty machine at the heart of a corporate high-rise, and “The Devil On The Stand,” which features a courtroom sketch artist who can’t seem to capture the likeness of one particular witness no matter how hard she tries, hit the spot. They are spooky, well-told, and keep the reader hooked until the end. The finale, “Full Fathom Five,” is a veritable showcase of Jones’ talent as a storyteller in miniature. It follows the artist Julian Le Sang who, as his name implies, paints large abstract canvasses in blood. Jones is adept and giving us odd-ball characters and scenarios that strangely make sense. It was a quality I appreciated when first reading “F For Fake” years ago, and it continues to stand out in his latest collection.
The wonderful illustrations by Ryan Mills that accompany each story are an added bonus. Mills has worked closely with Jones in the past, providing the covers and design for his novellas Criterium and The Dark Side of The Room.
“In order to tell stories of the creepy and fantastic, the dark and the macabre,” Tyler tells readers in the book’s afterword, “an audience needs to know it isn’t a joke.” Although playful at times, Jones is keen on highlighting the more unsettling elements of real life as it is experienced. This point is underscored in the story notes provided by the author at the end of the collection in which Jones explains his thought processes and influences. How a story develops in the mind of the author and what inspires it is, for Jones, a vital part of the finished product. Reading these notes, I found I was able to appreciate the stories on a different level, bringing me into the creative world of the author.
For all its merits, there is one caveat with Burn The Plans. The book is riddled with typos and textual errors, a fault that ultimately lies more with Cemetery Gates Media than the author himself. However, the quality of the stories and insights offered up in Burn The Plans ultimately carry the day. Despite the typographical errors, I was able to immerse myself in the strange worlds and characters that Jones conjures, making for an enjoyable read.