Such Pretty Confusion: Nightmares from a Damaged Mind
Peter N. Dudar
Trepidatio Publishing (August 18, 2023)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
Peter Dudar’s Such Pretty Confusion is a haunting and wide-ranging collection of dark fiction composed over the course of two decades that takes readers on a twisted journey through the depths of the human psyche. With a masterful command of storytelling and an uncanny ability to delve into the darkest corners of the mind, Dudar delivers a collection of tales that will leave you both horrified and mesmerized.
The book’s title itself hints at the paradoxical nature of the human experience. Dudar skillfully explores the complex interplay between beauty and horror, light and darkness, in a series of stories that are as thought-provoking as they are chilling. One of the standout features of this collection is the range of emotions it evokes. Dudar’s prose has a lyrical quality that draws you in, making you feel the raw emotions of the characters as they navigate the nightmares that populate these stories. From the very first page, you are transported into a world of palpable dread, where the line between reality and nightmare blurs.
Dudar’s ability to create richly developed characters in the span of short stories is commendable. Each protagonist is unique, and you can’t help but become deeply invested in their fates. Whether it’s the overwhelming grief of a grieving father, the eerie presence of a malevolent entity, or the existential dread that gnaws at the soul, Dudar’s characters are relatable in their humanity, even when they are confronted with the supernatural.
Because this is a very meaty collection, I make note of those stories that especially stood out to me.
“The Pressboard Factory”: Wonderful story about two boys growing up in a small town: the narrator and Ryan, an effeminate boy who is the butt of bullying at school and abuse at home. Ryan runs away to an abandoned furniture factory where the workers once mysteriously disappeared. Really brutal and poignant story.
“Portrait of an Old Woman with Crows”: Absolutely savage story of a young mother who makes the unfortunate mistake of painting a picture of an old woman feeding crows in a park without the woman’s permission. Almost a kind of modern fairy tale.
“The Perfect Parent”: A struggling writer is asked to serve as his deceased friend’s literary executor and discovers the truly bizarre and unsettling reason why his friend died. Lots of fun.
“The Old Guide’s Tale”: This one could have been written by Stephen King, and I mean that in a good way. Three men are fishing in a Maine lake, and we learn about the long history and folklore of the lake and surrounding area. Very good.
“The Three Billy Goats Sothoth”: I appreciate any story that can successfully combine a beloved fairy tale (“The Three Billy Goats Gruff”) with a Lovecraftian apocalypse and make the iconic bridge troll a sympathetic character. Well done.
“Two Slugs in the Belly”: This is the kind of story that reveals the sheer breadth of Peter Dudar’s writing. I would describe this one as a science fiction action thriller. Sure, there are some body horror elements, mainly surrounding an alien race that can impregnate humans with its spawn, which will devour the hapless women from within, but it’s a very creditable SF thriller involving corrupt politicians, a investigation that takes a detective into part of town that makes the Mos Eisley cantina seem like the bar in Cheers, and a frantic chase sequence with alien revolutionaries on the cusp of overthrowing humanity. All good stuff.
“Sunset at Devil’s Gulch”: A weird Western, which is another unexpected inclusion in the collection. A man who has been gutshot and left for dead by the bandits who killed his father and his horse must find a way to get revenge before he’s murdered. A very satisfyingly desperate tale of survival.
“Cattle Cars”: A man and his fiancé venture into rural Germany in search of the area where his great-grandfather was killed by the Nazis. This one went in a very unexpected direction that I won’t spoil. Absolutely brutal ending.
“Peripheral Vision”: A very nice little ghost story about a man haunted by the ghost of his toddler son. I will only say that his son seems absolutely enraged that his father didn’t die in the same car accident that killed him.
“Trailertrash Annie”: A modern day tale of two young teenage boys being scared of a witch living in their trailer park. Nicely done.
“Rest in Peace”: An unscrupulous photographer and artist obsessed with morbid and outré subjects prepares for what turns out to be his final art show. This one went in an unexpected direction and was all the stronger for that.
Such Pretty Confusion is a captivating and deeply unsettling collection of dark fiction. Peter N. Dudar’s storytelling prowess shines through in every tale, leaving a lasting impression on those brave enough to venture into his world of nightmares. If you have a taste for thought-provoking horror that challenges the boundaries of reality and imagination, this book is a must-read. Prepare to be haunted by the beauty of the macabre and the eloquence of fear. Definitely recommended.