Title: Strange Medicine
Author: Mike Russell
Genre: Fiction, short stories, surrealism
Where I got the book: I received a free e-copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Summary: A young woman develops her skills as a mime artist to invisible perfection. A brilliant Professor’s CT-scan reveals something disturbing. A girl finds that the talking head of a fish is protruding from her right shoulder. In eight short stories, this collection pulls at your imagination and explores the unusual, the strange, and the surreal.
“Sometimes the suffering of one individual is so great that it renders unjustifiable any purpose that the universe could possibly have.”
– “Mr Dennis and the Universe” in Strange Medicine, Mike Russell
Earlier this year I read and reviewed Mike Russell’s first short story collection “Nothing is Strange” and really enjoyed it. “Strange Medicine” is no different! It was definitely a pleasant experience jumping back into Russell’s wildly creative imagination. I haven’t really read anything else quite like this and again, just like with “Nothing is Strange”, I personally think there’s something very fascinating and compelling about bizarre situations or elements in the middle of a relatively ordinary setting.
Even though this is only the second work by Russell that I’ve read, the writing style immediately seemed familiar to me – it’s straight-forward, simple, dry, and witty. I got a good sense of the author’s voice throughout the entire collection. No matter how different they might be from each other, the stories mostly come across as strong and cohesive.
This collection includes much fewer short stories than the previous one, which had 20, but in exchange the majority of them are longer and often broken up into several parts. My favorites of the bunch were “Mime”, “Mr Dennis and the Universe”, and “Brain”. I think these stories all have a solid moral to them and deal with deeper themes such as grief, arrogance, and acceptance of yourself and others. I really loved these a lot and wouldn’t hesitate rereading them.
I have to say that I tend to prefer this kind of length when it comes to this format. There’s just so much more room for plot development and a bigger chance of getting to know the characters better. However, in this case I felt like the plot often got more attention and consequently more work than the characters did, and I would have loved to simply see more stories. When a collection consists of this few stories I also expect to find more stories memorable than what I actually did.
It could be that I’m already somewhat used to the stories from “Nothing is Strange” (and that I was subconsciously comparing the two collections while I was reading), but “Strange Medicine” as a whole seemed a tiny bit more grounded to me. However, that doesn’t mean the stories are not enjoyable or bizarre because they definitely are, and some story elements are completely out there. I believe you’ll enjoy these stories a lot more if you don’t question them too much or spend too much time trying to make sense of absolutely everything.
You don’t often come across this kind of creativity or this kind of unique take on a certain genre than Mike Russell’s work. If you’re looking for something completely different or a place to start when it comes to surreal and bizarre stories, then “Strange Medicine” might just be the literary prescription for you!