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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
When you read a review that describes a book as “riveting” and/or “one that you can't put it down”, you think of books like thrillers or mystery fiction. You don't think of books like A Second Less Capable Head and Other Rogue Stories by James Hanna. But this is a collection that you will indeed find you can't stop reading because you can’t wait to find out what will happen in the end. And the ending in just about every story will surprise you. So come to this collection with an open mind that expects the unexpected, and you will not be disappointed.
That second less capable head in the title belongs, in the first story, to Virgil and it’s growing at a rapid rate out of his neck…and the necks of hundreds of others across the US. Virgil wants it cut out, but according to the law, that would be murder. His girlfriend, who thinks the head is cute, names the second head Alf, but as soon as Virgil learns that he can now legally get the head removed and used by someone who needs a better head than they have, he goes for the operation. The only question left for the reader at the end of this story is which head is indeed the less capable! Bizarre? Yes. Humorous? To a degree. The same words might be used to describe the second story, about the tiny and beautiful human Thumbelinas that families can adopt. When you adopt one, as Henry Hokum does at his young daughter’s request, weeny Clarissa moves into their living room where she resides in her own fully-equipped doll house. What the reader sees via Henry Hokum through Clarissa is a side of themselves which many men ignore.
What? You’d be forgiven if you think right now that these stories sound ridiculous and ask is there any point to them other than to amuse? You bet there is and that’s why you have to read every story in this collection. After the first few unusual stories, which are not supernatural but beyond the natural, we enter the real world that James Hanna has encountered in his years as a probation officer: it’s an ugly, often heart-breaking world of criminals, stalkers, schizophrenics, prostitutes and murderers. By the time you finish reading each story, you truly begin to feel like you have suddenly grown a second, more capable head, a head more capable of understanding what makes bad people bad. You will find yourself questioning just how evil is Ryan O’Shaughnessy who has murdered over 40 people: he believes he’s doing a good thing for society, ridding it of the real vermin. Oddly enough, you might find yourself inclined to agree with him.
Many of the stories will touch your heart. They go deep, way deeper than simple, sad love stories. Many grab you as no thriller can. Others, like the one about the woman who finds love online with a husband whose farm grows plants beyond imagination, have political and cultural implications. Still others take you across the lonely, dry lands of Australia, or down the alleyways of the Kings Cross section of Sydney, as famous for its prostitutes, trans and gay population as for its delicious Aussie meat pies. This collection will make you sit back as both a reader, and a writer, if you are one, and wonder about the endless limits of a writer’s imagination. The world in this collection is often bizarre, but so realistic that it’s frightening!