Review: Sertraline Dreams by Oli Jacobs

I received a free copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

‘Labyrinth houses, giant eggs, and a legendary spice are just some of the creepy delights that Oli Jacobs brings in his latest short story collection, Sertraline Dreams.

‘Containing nine tales of terror, paranoia, and grotesque nightmare, it is possible that these words may invade your own headspace.’

Sertaline Dreams, Oli Jacobs’ seventh Filmic Cuts collection, features nine short horror stories of varying lengths.

Some are out-and-out gruesome, while others are more subtly sinister, and as with any collection, certain themes came to light as I was reading.

One was the unique-to-you horror your mind can spin up. The Marcus Road Job and So… put me in mind of the SSRI/SNRI-induced dreams of the book’s title (more on those in a bit).

In That There Egg, the main character worries about a mysterious egg that’s appeared in the sky, while his neighbour is blithely unconcerned, reminding me of “business as usual” attitudes to things like covid and climate change.

The Air Out There, meanwhile, is raw and a relateable account of agoraphobia, particularly the fear of being perceived and judged harshly.

Similarly, a couple of stories deal with human susceptibility to “too much of a good thing”. In the opening story, Mask, a man discovers that his elderly father’s lifelong project of collecting and cataloguing masks from around the world has gone to extreme lengths, to say the least.

In Whatever Happened to the Wadsworth Boys?, characters are sent mad by an innovation that lets them see beyond the layer of reality, and in The Lost City of Khorrombasi, lives are destroyed by an elusive, addictive spice.

While evolving/futuristic technology provides fertile ground for short fiction, Oli shows that old technology also has potential for scares.

Computers have now been around long enough that it’s plausible an urban legend relating to them could be passed down generations (The Computer That Would Not Die), and an old slam-door train that’s barely still in service is the setting of the gory Carny Train.

My favourite story, though, was The Marcus Road Job, where an indebted gang member is sent to burgle a deceptively ordinary suburban house that turns out to have an ever-shifting floor plan: doors, windows, and rooms refuse to stay put, and corridors, the basement, and the attic behave in unexpected ways.

As well as being intriguing and creepy in its own right, this story particularly stood out for me because I have recurring dreams where houses I’m familiar with have sprouted nonsensical additional spaces and/or changed in other weird ways (a vibe I also got from the final, enigmatic story in the collection, So…).

I therefore felt a thrill of recognition, and was impressed (and okay, maybe a little envious) that Oli has succeeded in forming a coherent, engaging story from what seems to be quite a common REM experience (see also: A Cosmology of Monsters, by Shaun Hamill). I dream of doing the same one day!

Sertraline Dreams is a highly compelling and thrillingly sinister short story collection.

Alice Violett's Picture

About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK