Short Story Review: I Remember Nothing by Anne Billson

I have more anthologies and collections of short fiction than is probably normal or healthy. To my great shame, many of them were purchased, placed on a shelf, and then never touched again. With this series of blog posts I’m going to try to correct that. Usually when I finish a book I post a review over on Goodreads, but the site isn’t really equipped for short stories. I could post a review of the anthologies, but it takes me a long time to get through full anthologies and usually by the time I do I only have a fresh memory of the last few stories. I thought it might be fun to write about the stories as I read them for the blog.

The first story I picked up was I Remember Nothing by Anne Billson. It’s the story of two strangers who awaken in bed with no memory of how they got there. Things grow increasingly ominous as they realize that they are not in either of their apartments, but instead in some kind of Saw-style puzzle room. My first thoughts were that the author was going to do a variation on the Saw theme of two strangers needing to work together to escape a madman, all while slowly realizing that they have some connection. In retrospect, that does describe the story fairly well, but without getting into spoilers, all I can say is that the connection the strangers share absolutely turns the Saw trope on its head.

As the story progresses the writing takes on a kind of dreamlike quality. Combined with the first person perspective this give the story the feeling of a friend recalling a particularly vivid and disturbing dream. The story ends with more questions than answers which adds to the idea of it being a kind of nightmare. All in all, I liked the story. Short stories can sometimes be a little closer to poetry than novels. This story is all about emotion and atmosphere. It evokes feelings of dread, fear, and in the end, horror. The internal logic of the story doesn’t really hold up, but it doesn’t need to. A dream can be disturbing even if it doesn’t make sense. After all, just because the thing you experienced in your dream is “impossible” doesn’t mean you didn’t experience it.

I went looking to see what I could find out about I Remember Nothing, and I was extremely happy to find Anne Billson wrote a blog post about it. I happened to discover this story in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 11 (stories from 2018).

When I learned that this short story was originally written for an anthology of stories inspired by tracks from the Joy Division album Unknown Strangers everything clicked into place. Billson’s track was, of course, “I remember nothing.” This story does an excellent job of capturing the feeling of the song. I think the entire anthology is an interesting project. I’m not the biggest Joy Division fan, but I did actually go out and listen to the track, and I must say this added a new layer to it for me.

There are some content warnings I will add. It gets a bit gorey, and there’s a repeated line about a certain bodily fluid that actually made me gag a little. While there are no actual depictions of rape in the story, I would imagine that the dreamlike nature of the writing combined with the main character’s concern upon waking up in this situation that she may have been raped could be quite triggering.

If you don’t mind that sort of content, and you don’t mind a story with good writing, but not much internal logic then I would recommend this one. I don’t know if I’d purchase a whole anthology just for this story, but I’ll be taking a look at more of The Best Horror of the Year vol. 11, and I will keep you posted.

Ben

I co-host the Words About Books podcast with my writing partner Nate.

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