One Star: A Short Horror Story by The Behrg

One Star_The Behrg.jpg

Publisher: Pricks Like Thorn Media | Release Date: July 20, 2019 | Pages: 17

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One Shot, a 17-page short story and the latest release from The Behrg, tells the brief story of a book blogger signing off for the final time. A short time prior, her critical one-star review of Jaxon Creed’s newest work tipped the author over the edge and he committed suicide live on Facebook. What follows is her response to her readers, her philosophies on reviewing, and her role in the author’s public demise.

As both an author and a reviewer, I wear a few different hats that don’t always sit well with others. I’ve written reviews that have upset other authors, as well as other readers, and hell, probably even other reviewer. I fondly recall one e-mail I received from a reader who excoriated me for daring to enjoy Joe Hill’s The Fireman, insisting that the publisher or Hill himself must have paid me off to post a positive review. In another instance, I reviewed a sci-fi book that included a fictional yet openly obvious depiction of Donald Trump. Readers of that site were so incensed by my positive review of a work very much critical of their Dear Leader that they succeeded in getting my review pulled. And, I can say with little doubt at all, I’ve written various books, novellas, and short stories that have been absolutely loathed by some readers (although, fortunately, the public record indicates my fiction has been enjoyed more often than not).

I’ve also been privy to some of the drama that exists within, and sometimes between, the book reviewing and author communities. There have been far too many stories of crazy authors stalking reviewers who deigned to one-star their books and failed to recognize their unbridled genius, or whose loved ones have taken it upon themselves to verbally assault reviewers for not enjoying dear one’s latest story. And rather than focusing on criticizing the work itself, there have been reviewers who have attacked authors openly and directly, or who get some perverse joy out of tagging authors in all their social media accounts to share negative reviews with them. I’ve seen authors claim some horror book reviewers aren’t real horror fans because they don’t want to read about child murder and rape. I’ve seen other authors preach that their fellow authors shouldn’t ever negatively review books for various reasons. I’ve worked for review outlets who didn’t want to post negative reviews and certainly wouldn’t pay for them, and I know several reviewers who will only post positive reviews because they quit books they don’t enjoy. Some of these are fair to some, and abhorrent to others. Opinions differ and your mileage may vary.

There exists a certain tension between authors and reviewers. It’s a symbiotic relationship that can turn deadly parasitic at the drop of a hat. Authors need reviewers, regardless of how much some writer may suggest otherwise. Reviews are the lifeblood of authors, and we live and die on word of mouth — but hopefully not literally. Reviewers, of course, need books, sometimes like they need air. Books exist as common ground, that passion for literature bridging those two groups in the face of other hot topics like politics or religion. We might not all agree on much, but we can agree that books are pretty awesome and give our lives meaning and dimension.

All this is to say, I get what The Behrg is going for here. He tells a quick, punchy story that moves quick and makes its point in rapid-fire fashion before closing out. We get to know a good bit about Li, the reviewer, as well as her motivations for becoming a blogger, which is easily one of the more fascinating aspects of the story. Sadly, the premise is sufficiently realistic — the idea that a depressed author might kill themselves over a poor review doesn’t strike me as unrealistic or improbable, or that a blogger would feel guilt in the aftermath and hang up their reviewing cred in response.

There’s not a single note in One Star that rings false to me, in either what we know about Li or Creed, and the specters that haunt them. The Behrg hits these notes with aplomb, as well as lived experience. Like me, The Behrg is both an author and an avid reviewer (in fact, he’s even positively reviewed a few of my works, although that has no bearing on my enjoyment of this story and does not influence this review), and I appreciate the honesty he brings to his reviews. In his afterword, he notes that we review in the hopes that it will help us connect to others, and to help them connect with the things we enjoy. We won’t always agree on what piece of art is good or bad, but “it opens something to them they wouldn’t have discovered without you.” It’s OK to disagree, but “The important thing is to have those conversations — spread your love of fiction, of horror, of the strange — because someone out there may just discover their new favorite author of something YOU share.”

That’s why we review. (I can assure you, it’s certainly not to get rich.)

Over the course of its brief page count, One Shot manages to raise a few important questions about mental health, responsibility, honesty, and the connections that exists between readers, writers, and reviewers, deliberately or otherwise. It’s an ode to reviewers and to the importance of reviews, but beyond that it’s a pretty compelling story in its own right. It even sticks the landing in a pretty damn satisfying way, raising an issue I hadn’t previously given much thought to but that will likely be at the forefront of my mind here on in.

One Shot is available for free, but will also be included in The Behrg’s forthcoming short story collection, The Passengers You Cannot See. Keep an eye out for that one soon.