The Larry Dilemma (Gene Penny) [2020] (Narr. Matt Hicks)

Casey Talbert is an entirely unpleasant fellow, he cheats on his wife and no doubt cheats in his business. In fact, it’s very likely he kicks puppies and steals candy off babies just in order to use it to entice ants under the hot glow of a magnifying glass.
Casey Talbert is one of those men we sometimes meet in life for whom the world seems to bow and treat as a king even though we all know they are made of refuse; Casey Talbert is no less than a scumbag dressed in an expensive suit. So when one Christmas he discovers a strange little store in the back of a shopping mall he finds that there are cracks in the world that such a man can unwittingly find, a place suited to such a man’s dubious attributes.
This is how this thoroughly unpleasant man finds himself in a twisted comic version of all those magical Christmas tales we all grew up on, an It’s a Wonderful Life for the deeply cynical. The Larry Dilemma reads very much like a light-hearted, but still somewhat dark Twilight Zone episode. It’s a combination of familiar themes with a dash of Clive Barkers The Yattering and Jack.
Those of us who take the time to peruse the more shadowy end of the literary scale, those of us who look into the horror and fantasy produced by lesser known or struggling authors know that there is a lot in this place that – to put it kindly – could do with a certain amount of polish. There is in fact many authors, both struggling and well known, that could do with being gifted a thesaurus and a time-out to read through it.
Thankfully Gene Penny does not appear to be one of these people and with The Larry Dilemma he has produced a tale that stands rather proudly. It is not a deep story, there are few life lessons to learn beyond the obvious, but it is well written and extremely engaging. The lead character is well drawn and in spite of his obvious unpleasantness he’s very funny and presents as an old fashioned “cad” that raises a smile as much as a scowl.
This is not to say there are not darker aspects to the story, especially towards its end. There are moments that are truly unsettling, but these are few and are used deftly to secure a story point rather than used exploitatively. In this The Larry Dilemma shows us that the old adage “less is sometimes more” to be absolutely accurate.
Running in at less than an hour and ten minutes, only a little longer than one of those Twilight Zone episodes I was talking about, the story does not overstay its welcome and is a perfect filler that will probably outshine one of those longer works but better known authors.
Finally, something has to be said about Matt Hicks, the books narrator, who appears to be enjoying playing Casey Talbert to the hilt. The narrator manages to lift the story into the realms of a one-man radio show. His portrayal is far more than just a narration, it’s a full-fledged acting role where he becomes Casey and makes the it a fulfilling experience even without Gene Penny’s excellent writing.
If you got this far in my little appreciative review than I think The Larry Dilemma might be for you, it’s a funny and twisting little tale that scratches those cynical itches that some of us get over the Christmas period when some of us are feeling a little jaded by all that incessant “niceness”.
Follow Casey to that strange little shadowy store; I think you’ll enjoy the experience.

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