“Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic” is a set of twenty excellent short stories dealing with the terrible effects of pandemics and lockdowns on both normal and abnormal human beings — and on normal people who become abnormal as the result of attempting to cope with viral plagues. The editors, Nick Kolakowski and Steve Waddle, have done a fine job of collecting and presenting the material; the stories range in intensity from quite intense to horrifyingly compelling.
The subtitle is a bit misleading in its implication that hope shares approximately equal billing with crime and terror. There is in these pieces very little evidence of hopes or wishes realized. The collection as a whole, then, represents a fascinating paradox: Every one of the stories reaches its goal of chillingly portraying the potential horrors we face with the attack of of the so-far-unstoppable spread of a mortally injurious virus. What collection could possibly be more timely and effective as a literary warning alarm?
But for those who already suffer from the sadness or stress or downright depression that for some is almost inevitable while living through a viral plague, reading these stories, especially in one sitting, may well cause hours or days of discomfort and an overarching cloud of doom. I cannot, therefore, in good conscience recommend them to all readers. That’s just how good they are — good and awful, disgustingly superb.
A look at the themes and motifs that dominate these stories illustrates the point: Violence and murder are the most common threads. Deaths by infection run a close second. A sense of gloom hangs like a black cloud over every story and probably over every reader’s head. The predominant metaphor is redness; blood is splattered everywhere and all over a bunch of characters, and it’s surely infected, deadly blood.
Are we happy yet?
The plots are ingenious, carefully constructed, and extraordinarily attention-grabbing: A man so loves his sick wife that he will murder to save her; characters struggle through their own personal versions of a living hell in hopes of finding safety, only to ultimately find tragedy and destruction; lovers end up despising each other, and murder soon ensues; a man risks his life for an opportunity to view some powerful pornography; humans-turned-zombies attack and eat the flesh of their innocent uninfected victims.
The editors wisely finish the collection with two stories that feature escapes to fantasy-lands of beauty and love, though both stories, of course, also offer up gory diseases, horror, and death. In those two stories — and only in those two — can we vaguely glimpse glimmers of hope. I highly recommend “Lockdown” for those with strong stomachs and an appreciation for imaginative literature. But if you usually read primarily for escape from your daily troubles, run away.
Review by Jack Kramer.
This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.