Insanity By Increments, a collection of short stories, examines the darker side of the human condition with characters that reveal humanity in the midst of distress. Author Alaric Cabiling has one of the most distinct authorial voices in literature today, putting his penchant for subtlety and persuasive language on display in his debut work of fiction.
Two brothers test fate. A father mourns the loss of his child. An old abandoned home is the scene of a final journey into the past. A man revisits the scene of a one-night stand. Each story is unforgiving in its attempt at revealing the transcendental from the mundane.
"Insanity by Increments, Stories," a collection of short stories by Alaric Cabiling, takes its title from the last story in the book, but it might describe the reader if you decide to pull an all-nighter and read this volume in one sitting.
Cabiling's stories are grounded in one of the long traditions of American short stories, from Melville's "Bartleby" to the Montana of Richard Ford: lonely men at odds with bleak landscapes, traumatized by a childhood that was often violent, and always lacking true emotional warmth. These narrators are frequently writers, artists, young men who are capable of creating their own strange stage settings so that even within this tradition, they come off as memorable.
Some of Cabiling's protagonists live prosaic lives, some are definitely out on the fringe. The photographer of dead beauty queens in "Frailty" is as proud of his aesthetic skill and success as is the novelist in "Dulcinea," and Cabiling eases us through these nightmarish sequences by tossing in some Latin American magic realism. The tone throughout many of the stories is that of a surrealist move, where one absurd scene after the other continues to mount toward some dark inevitability. The endless days slipping away in a "wash of gray" against a pale sky are contrasted by closing time at motel bars, dark, gaudy rooms inhabited by people who do not really belong there—people on their way to and from somewhere else. You cannot help but be impressed by the author's ability to establish scene and pace within the first few paragraphs of his stories
Modern literary short fiction is not unusual: many attempt it; relatively few do it well - especially in the style of the gothic horror approach so aptly explored by Poe, Hawthorne, and other greats. That's why it's such a pleasure to read Insanity by Increments: it takes some of the methods and madness of these greats and moves a step further, presenting nine short stories of contemplation and quiet horror.
Take 'Once Found, Once More Forsaken', for example (the first story in the collection). The protagonist has slept through a storm and is expecting the arrival of his brother, a wealthy wanderer, that morning; but his chance encounter with an old schoolgirl introduces a sense of danger ("The air had an unusual odor, one that seemed to have followed the storm, with the rising waters replenishing the stagnant pools of the bog."), and what transpires next is anything but a congenial family visit.
Surreal moments, gently simmering mysteries, a woodland replete with death and growing horror - all this is gently woven into a story that opens with a receding storm and evolves into exquisitely challenging horror.
'Omens of Winter' is another heart-pull: it opens with a family dilemma and, once more, time is taken to paint scenes properly, right down to the creak of a door as a last generation stands strong against what is to come: "The ancient door still made a ratcheting sound at a point in its arc, and I was careful to not let it alarm them, sliding from behind it as I escaped into the hallway and up the stairs towards my room." When the family structure changes, the kids face many new choices - and dangers.
All are well-done, replete with psychological tension throughout. If it's nonstop staccato action that is desired, look elsewhere. If it's the slow simmer of a buildup that injects readers into the sights, sounds, and circumstances of all kinds of horror and insanity, choose Insanity by Increments: it's a deliciously complex treasure trove especially recommended for fans of literary Gothic fiction who want modern scenarios and representations in the context of a genre that receives (regrettably) little attention these days.
Creepy and meditative short stories that investigate the blacker side of humanity.
Two teenagers gearing up for the future visit their quadriplegic aunt and her husband. A man visits his brother and runs into an old girlfriend. A writer meets a haunting woman at a bar late at night. Six more tales are present in the collection. And running through all of them is a unsettling undercurrent.
Author Alaric Cabiling’s short story collection is not for those who like happy endings. But for any readers who like well-developed fiction, the nine stories here are exquisite. Characters are fully realized with their own backstories and motivations. It is not hard to imagine them going on with their lives off page. Certain stories also have a creepy vibe. While they never break out into full on horror, there is an odd feeling that something is not quite right, something just below the surface. Unfortunately, sometimes these elements are not explored enough, resulting in some of the stories not ending on a satisfying note. It is not that they are too depressing or anything of the sort, but rather that they feel like they end too soon, before certain plot elements are adequately wrapped up. A few of these stories could also be a bit tighter. However, in spite of these issues, it is tough to get tired of them. While some short story collections are better read section by section, no such fatigue sets in with the tales here and they come recommended even to those who normally do not pick up similar collections. It helps that Cabiling’s pacing and wording creates the perfect disquieting tone needed to pull off some of these novellas and anecdotes.
INSANITY BY INCREMENTS is a disquieting but irresistible view into love and relationships gone wrong.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Full Text: I don’t often read short stories as I prefer more character and plot development than short stories can offer. But sometimes a short story collection will catch my eye, like this one did. Who could resist that title?
There are a total of nine short stories in this collection. The whole book was only about 120 pages on my e-reader so each of the stories was quite short. However, this author uses every word to wonderful effect, with no fillers whatsoever. To me, these were more mood pieces rather than stories with a beginning and ending. Things aren’t always spelled out in black or white but rather are hinted at. The author expertly sets up a dark atmosphere for each story, with subtle psychological suspense running through them. I see that the author’s first book “Darkest Day” is a book of poetry and I can certainly see the heart of a poet in this short story collection.
The next time I see a short story book, I won’t be so quick to pass it by as I very much enjoyed reading these short bursts of literary prose. I read the book almost straight through but did have to stop after each story to contemplate it a bit before moving onto the next one. Highly recommended.
Insanity By Increments: Stories is a collection of literary short stories written by Alaric Cabiling. The nine stories that comprise this collection seem to share a theme of dislocation and/or alienation; many of their heroes are cold, disaffected or out of step with the world. The first story, Once Found, Once More Forsaken, is narrated by a man who admires his talented, eccentric and adventurous older brother and whose visit he has anticipated and prepared for with care and the deli meats he knows his brother loves. The brother comes and swirls through town in his Lamborghini; his old girlfriend throwing herself at him barely out of sight of her husband and his propensity to violence. "I never loved her," he tells his younger brother and is gone in the morning, almost as if he had never been there at all.
Inside Alaric Cabiling's literary short story collection, Insanity By Increments lurk compelling and darkly edgy gems that grab the reader's attention, toy with him for a few brief moments, and then toss him aside casually, without an afterthought while each succeeding story dares the undaunted audience to try again. The mood in these stories is stormy and oppressive and still somehow so seductive that I found myself unable to put Insanity By Increments Down. And after finishing the concluding, and title, story, I thought to read the first story once again and so retrace the cycle, but thought it best to wait a bit and let the dark magic settle down to safer levels. Cabiling is a master at creating moods, especially those which border on the macabre, the obsessive and the melancholy. Each word seems selected carefully, examined and put in place just so, and the flawed and flailing characters he peoples his work with become almost familiar to the reader as he himself is...and that's a pretty scary thing, and the handiwork of a powerful and creative writer. Insanity By Increments: Stories is most highly recommended.
Insanity by Increments by Alaric Cabling is a work of Gothic literary short fiction about people on the edge – isolated from other people, and from themselves.. No one acts predictably, nor does the world around them. It’s not just the characters who have dark impulses, the world they inhabit is just as sinister.
The collection is moody, cerebral, and ultimately very affecting. In each of the stories, men grapple with isolation and abandonment. Some of their lives are mundane and ordinary, while some are truly outcasts, but they all share a similar sense of alienation. The collection could have devolved into narcissism or self-pity, but it never does. What separates Insanity by Increments from other “angry young man” fiction is that it takes a turn into the surreal. The stories are at once a realistic look at the human condition, and how that human condition is put to the test in increasingly distressing, and frankly strange, scenarios.
The title is very apt: this collection is a slow burn. It’s not horror in the traditional sense, with jump scares and obvious terror, but it’s harrowing all the same. The stories are recommended for fans of Poe, Hawthorne, Lovecraft and Maupassant, but with a more modern sensibility. To this reviewer, that’s a very potent combination for a work of literary short fiction.
by Henry Baum
Insanity by Increments: Stories is a collection of short stories by Alaric Cabiling that call to the darker rudiments of human existence. InsanityByIncrementsThe stories range from morose to vicious, to just plain sadness and desolation, as the characters deal with the inequities and trials of life.
The author takes his readers on an unnerving ride through nine different stories, with a haunting look into the duality of goodness and evil presiding within every human being. One man makes the ultimate sacrifice for his brother after their parents die within a few months of each other. A father mundanely trudges through the motions of life after the death of his only child. A boy is abandoned, first by his alcoholic father, then by his mother, as her plans for a new life don’t include him. Beauty queens long buried deep into the earth will pose for a final photo shoot at the whim of a madman. Cruelty is dosed out by one man in strangled silence over the years, after a tragic accident renders a “normal” life to be just out of reach.
The stories in the collection are written in the Gothic horror tradition, yet portray a somewhat modernized style, creating an appeal to an expanded audience, and not just reserved for those typically drawn to classic literary works. Morbidity, depression, anguish, and horror create the underlying tone for most of the stories. It’s often these unspoken subtleties set the scene even more so than the author’s vivid depictions of a stormy night, an abandoned house, or a patch of dead trees surrounding a misty swamp.
As is the perfect nature of the short story, I was left wanting more, and in deep deliberation of all the possible scenarios, “what-if’s” and “if-only’s” at the end of each tale. Indeed, a complete novel could be written on each short story. My mind continually drifted back to the classic quote from Henry David Thoreau, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I felt that quiet desperation to be more intense and threatening than traditional horror, where you expect to be terrified.
I found Insanity by Increments: Stories by Alaric Cabiling to be quite engrossing. He does a brilliant job of getting into your head and delivering powerful story lines. This is a book that will linger in your mind long after you finish the last page.
"It's like there's this stranger deep inside of you, sharing space in your mind, whispering, sabotaging everything."
Insanity by Increments is a collection of nine short stories, each filled with progressively ascending tension; each walks the fine line between reason and the dark impulsive tendencies of the human mind.
While the novel takes the title of the final story, the stories prior are the build up. In the opening story, "Once Found, Once More Forsaken," the image of the dead swans in the forest thrusts the reader into a somber mood and ensures that there will be no fitting, happy end. "The Illusion of Progress," paints a grim, albeit real portrait of life: marriages fail, accidents happen, and even when one might think they've hit rock bottom, there's still further down to go.
Cabiling does an incredible job of using the setting to depict the ominous mood of his narrative. Examples include phrases like, "furniture would sit somberly like tombstones."
"Winter’s Eden," is the story that stands out. The phrase Eden plants the forbidden fruit idea into the audience's mind. Whether it's the tension between Amy and her Uncle Henry, or Henry's reluctant fulfillment of his obligations to his paraplegic wife, Leticia, this story pushes the envelope.
To have a collection that repeatedly trumps predictable behavior is refreshingly original. "Frailty" toys with the macabre and will certainly get a gasp from its readers as the story spirals into a darkening world.
Interestingly, sexual tension is almost ubiquitous. However, the story with the least is possibly the most depressing: "Omens of Winter." Set in Scuttlefield, Cabiling shines light on a painstaking life of toiling the farm and resigning one's self to a lifetime of despair.
Overall, the simple structure makes for an easy read. The content, at times, resembles a fusion of Poe and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Other times, it shatters the barriers of reason and lets readers dive into the horrific reality that is depression.
RECOMMENDED by the USR