Everyone that's "in the know" about good contemporary genre fiction knows who Richard Thomas is and have probably enjoyed his stories already. He's one of the most productive and unique writers on the hardboiled and horror short story markets. Artistically speaking, the man is a bit of an enigma, though. If you read enough of his shorts, they eventually start feeling shapeless at, but weirdly connected to one another like they were a code for something else. Their meaning start eluding you. Thomas' new collection Tribulations (available on April 15 only) has a slightly different approach that perpetuate the mystery with visions more tormented than ever.
Tribulations is a collection of twenty-five short stories. The great majority of those are reprints from horror magazines, literary journals and various anthologies. They are similar in tone to the Richard Thomas stories I have gotten used to, but Tribulations contains some of his best work. A problem I had with Thomas in the past was that his style, while unique and challenging, kind of cannibalized the essence of his stories: when read back-to-back, they all ended up sounding like they were about the same thing. This doesn't happen in Tribulations. Not sure if it's because Richard Thomas feels more comfortable with horror, but the end result is richer and more visceral than anything he's ever done before.
My favorite stories in Tribulations were: Fireflies, Vision Quest, The Wastelands, The Handyman, Wicker Park Pause and The Fix-it Man. They all feature Richard Thomas' trademark ultra-intimate narration style, but his artistic obsession of characters caught between two lives, two realities is illustrated otherwise. In Fireflies, it's symbolized by the protagonist locking himself inside a decrepit house/cabin for example. In The Handyman, it's even more boldly represented as a missing arm. Richard Thomas has original and disturbing visions of horror and Tribulations was like going from nightmare to nightmare without waking up.
I'm very critical of short story collections. They cannot just be random stories put together. They have to have an overarching theme, a raison d'être, if you want me to pick it up. If I'm going to read short stories instead of novels, I want to read shorts about ghosts, broken hearts, creepy neighbors, etc. Richard Thomas gets away with a collection of carefully picked reprints here because they are some of his best material period. Reading Tribulations felt like watching the second run of Twilight Zone, Night Visions or any other series that would be too hardcore for the feeble young minds of today. Richard Thomas did with Tribulations something very few authors are capable of: making his short stories interesting again after publishing novels. Hats off, sir. Hats off.