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Spotlight on: Socially Awkward Moments with an Aspiring Lunatic by Jeff Strand

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Socially Awkward Moments with an Aspiring Lunatic by Jeff Strand Jeff Strand, Socially Awkward Moments with an Aspiring Lunatic

"[On] the day that I turned thirty, I decided that I wanted to be insane. I'd tried three decades of sanity and it just wasn't working out. I was bored with my tedious, intellectual, clear-focused existence. I wanted to lose my mind." -- from Socially Awkward Moments with an Aspiring Lunatic

I am most certainly not a fan of the recent trend of binding a single short story, calling it a chapbook, and charging a sawbuck for it. But every once in a while, a story deserves to be seen on its own, and not lost in the shuffle of an anthology or a collection. Jeff Strand's Socially Awkward Moments with an Aspiring Lunatic is most certainly one of those.

Strand is perhaps best known for his skill at balancing humorous and horrific elements in one tale (although his new novel Pressure, with its mainstream-thriller plot and characters, may change that for good). Socially Awkward Moments with an Aspiring Lunatic showcases that rare talent wonderfully (with cover art by Keith Minnion that manages to have a similar effect, both funny and disturbing). Tired of pursuing a totally sane existence, the unnamed protagonist instead vows to start living a life of lunacy. At first, he has some difficulty -- when covering himself with spiders (to feed on his arachnophobia) doesn't work, he tries a horror film marathon but ends up watching "The Evil Dead twice because it was so cool." As a last resort, "I tried a bit of self-mutilation but it hurt too much." Seems this insanity stuff isn't so easy to come by.

Even when I simply practiced expressions of insanity in the mirror, none of them were convincing. I could successfully look like I was confused, frightened, sleepy, or suffering from testicular distress, but I couldn't look crazed. I remained completely miserably sane.
But then he gets the idea to act like an insane person in the hopes that the craziness will result. But what do insane people do? "Well, for one thing, they tied women to beds and giggled with maniacal glee as they sliced off their extremities with a chainsaw." Perfect. Now all he needs is a date. And that's where Socially Awkward Moments with an Aspiring Lunatic really comes into its own, as we follow his pursuit of the perfect victim and the steps he takes to complete his goal. Strand doesn't leave out a single detail or thought process as he follows his protagonist through the tenacious pursuit of psychosis.

Even though the story itself is only seventeen pages long, I can say without a doubt that it is worth the money. Strand makes every word count in what is possibly his most tightly written story ever. Other authors would have attempted to expand this into a novella or (God forbid) a novel, but Strand knows that this story is best told quickly and simply. No embellishments are necessary when you've got a solid narrative as a foundation. Socially Awkward Moments with an Aspiring Lunatic is a full-bodied, character-driven story that even has some depth (not to mention a few surprises in store) -- just one more step in the development of an author whose name you'll be hearing a lot more of very soon.

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