Human relationships contain complications that are somewhat lost on us in everyday banality. In Destroy All Monsters by Greg Hrbek, these complications result in aberrations where normalcy has been twisted and pushed to the limits, creating bizarre circumstances. The true horror of the collection is that the stories—somewhat shockingly—don’t seem that bizarre. This reveals much about the message hidden in these tales, where things are never quite what they seem.
Destroy All Monsters is a slim book containing ten stories of varying length, all of which were previously published in other formats. Parenthood is the resounding theme, showing up even in the midst of seemingly unrelated events. After all, the overwhelming responsibility that comes with creating life can be frightening. Couples expecting their first child may want to return this volume to the shelves, but should they do so, it would behoove them to examine it later, so as not to deny themselves a genuine reading experience. Some may want to read it now and heed the more cautionary tales. “Sagittarius” is an odd but moving story about parental love when faced with freakish adversity. “False Positive” tackles the old issue of what might have been, leaving the main character and the reader to reflect on their life choices. These are not stories for children; they are stories for adults and the child still at the core of all of us.
Like the hazy memories of youth, background events are spotty, sometimes lacking entirely, and setting is often an unknown. The reader is typically placed in a situation that has somehow came to be from strange circumstances. “General Grant (2004 - )” is a good example of this, hinting at a volatile plot the reader will never know because readers are privy only to the end of the story. “Green World” will shock the reader with the scant details it provides about the circumstances the narrator finds himself in. This inability to know exactly what has transpired is frustrating; there is a sense of always wanting more. It is a writing style that represents a clever literary trick: Hrbek has the reader right where he wants them, intrigued and enticed by the story.
This continues throughout the collection, as the reader always wants more—more details, more length and more character development—but such things would alter the stories and likely devalue them. This is the case with “Tomorrow People,” the longest and most detailed story in the collection but also the weakest. It is a somewhat predictable and dull tale that seems misplaced among other stories like “Sleeper Wave,” which readers will find on the shores of greatness. It is the simplicity of Hbrek’s writing, with its stylish minimal descriptions, which infuses the other stories with a quality responsible for making them so excellent. Reading Destroy All Monsters is an eye-opening experience about human beings, especially parents and children. Despite odd creatures and curiosities, the reader must find deeper meanings and locate the monsters to confront who or what they are exactly.
This may be ultimately unanswerable, but the stories suggest the monsters are not necessarily the denizens of a supernatural or alien realm. Instead, they are reassembled into human actions and qualities. The monsters lurk in emotions like grief and hurt, and they jump out at us in acts of forgiveness and betrayal, and yes they are often frightening even when they are not “bad.” This collection focuses an imaginative lens on the continuous struggle of human generations, replete with all their monstrosities.