Reviews of Stigma: AfterWorld
by Jeffrey A. Stadt

(2 reviews: Hellnotes Newsletter, Scavenger's Newsletter)

(From Hellnotes Newsletter, review by Brian Hodge)

The main functions of the small press are dual: providing a forum for material that's too risky, thematically or financially, for the publishing mainstream, and furnishing a training ground for writers honing their craft before making the leap. In Stigma: Afterworld, it's a bit of both.

This novella looks at the ravages of mental illness, and in his bio, Stadt makes no secret that he knows whereof he speaks: "I wrote Afterworld while I was on heavy antipsychotic drugs which were, basically, killing me." He also makes no secret that the central character, Joshua Summers, is loosely based on himself, noting several autobiographical parallels. Stadt shows considerable courage by not being concerned with always making Joshua sympathetic -- yet if in the sum total he is, it's mainly because of his life's circumstances, and not his behavior and impulses.

The story is framed by the volatile time Joshua lives in a halfway house with three other formerly institutionalized patients attempting to readjust to the outer world. Apropos for a story of schizophrenics, the flow is fragmented, told through journal entries of Josh and two other residents, the log of the psychiatrist who oversees their care, and third-person narratives.

While there's no shortage of horror tropes, Stadt confines them to the minds of the characters: Joshua fears the influence of malign telepaths, while his housemate Bobby sees vampires everywhere. Vesna, the product of childhood ritual abuse, has a compulsive attraction to the gay Joshua. The older Adeline naturally assumes a maternal role, desperate to keep her strange family on track even as its members derail in their unique ways. Josh is thrown by falling in unrequited love with a straight boy; Bobby becomes what he most fears; a sexual encounter when Vesna gets her way sets up a surreal, distant epilogue that explores the hereditary question of insanity and takes us into the cartoon world of Mr. Frosty, which has informed aspects of Joshua's inner life.

While clearly gifted, Stadt is still marshalling his literary forces. He's generally more accomplished in the first-person points of view, taking us directly into the heads of his characters, than in the omniscient narratives, which sometimes read like more formative work. But some of the journal entries can be jarring in context, such as the otherwise functional doctor's log veering into poetic metaphor to describe a patient's face as being "as bright as Helios' chariot."

Nevertheless, Stigma is an affecting work, something its author clearly needed to write, and this gives it its lingering power. One long passage near the end, as Joshua takes renewed responsibility for himself while coming to terms with the events that nearly killed him, is a poignant, painful glimpse into suffering that most of us will never know: "There is no future for me or my kind, there is only today. If we make it past today, the tedious cycle begins again. There is no escape from this life....there is only withstanding, holding my ground, and a hope not to backslide into a tangible hell....Perhaps I created a fissure between the dimensions when I first committed suicide, and this passionless play began."

It's in these moments that Stadt shines brightest, and Stigma becomes another trope we all need from time to time: an exorcism.

From Scavenger's Newsletter, review by Jim Lee)

For over a decade, the disturbing short fiction of Jeffrey A. Stadt has been popping up with some regularity in the bolder Horror/Dark Fantasy outposts of the small press. Now, courtesy Jasmine Sailing, Stadt unleashes this shatteringly well-written and emotionally honest novella in chapbook form. As with much of Stadt's shorter work, this one's not suitable to easy pigeonholing into category or genre. It's chilling, yes, and suspenseful, with elements of psychological and fantastic horror. It's a story of building madness, inevitable tragedy and surreal fascination.

Stadt navigates the literary quicksand of multiple viewpoints with great skill and the sections from main character Joshua Summers are especially compelling. In fact, the rich and brutally poetic cadences of the opening segment had me actually reading this troubled individual's musings aloud. To myself. Just to better appreciate and absorb their unique, high-impact flavor. That, is writing of the highest order, folks.

The surreal collage art of t. Winter-Damon (on the cover, plus in 6 interior illos) and a Michael A. Arnzen introduction add the appropriate side touches to this tale of an emotionally and mentally tortured young man. Given the intensity of the narrative, it's no surprise that Josh is based (although loosely) on Stadt's own troubled experiences.

It's really quite an extraordinary little book. Engrossing and unnerving. Adult, in the best sense. Check it out.

To the CPAOD books and magazine ordering info.

Back to the Stigma info & excerpts.