Hugh Sheehy’s riveting new collection draws heavily from the genres of horror, mystery, science fiction, and myth. These are tales of seekers, often damaged, who find themselves caught up in skewed realities, facing lurking threats, violent deaths, strange entities, and alienating technologies. Confronted with unsettling circumstances that escalate, the disparate cast of characters—fathers, photographers, ex-cons, police detectives, executives—are driven toward self-revelation and perverse moments of poignancy.
A troubled high-schooler traps a peer in an underground storage space. A traumatized felon returns home to rob the man who molested him as a child. A videogame help-line operator suspects a regular caller, obsessed with a disturbing role-playing game, of real-life misdeeds. “Modern Wonders” presents a future in which ailing retirees exist virtually, and indefinitely, wired to a “life-extension network” while the world around them goes to hell. The question for the protagonist, who has drifted from human connection, is when to “log off.” In the title story, an unhappy couple with all the trappings of success and privilege adopts a “designer animal,” a genetic hybrid created to be the perfect pet, but the “grot” makes trouble in the neighborhood, becoming emblematic of a deeper problem. “Something is wrong with the world,” the narrator’s husband explains. “A design flaw. It’s so thoroughly corrupted, I’m not sure how to fix it.”
Inventive and unpredictable, these thirteen stories are wholly immersive, even as they explore complex psychologies and concepts. Design Flaw shows Sheehy at his captivating best.