It’s one thing to expect a book to sell well when it features short stories by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, and Ramsey Campbell. It is another when every story in the book is a solid look at horror with some sort of light still shining at the end of it. Such is the case with Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories. We’ve grown accustomed to horror that pulls us into the depths and leaves us there, but this compilation shows that even at the worst times, humans instinctively cling to any ray of hope they can find. While it may not be the hope they thought they were looking for, sometimes, it’s still enough.
Stephanie M. Wytovich sets the tone for the anthology with her poem, “The Morning After Was Filled with Bone.” But the next story, Brian Kirk’s “Picking Splinters from A Sex Slave” kicked me upside the head, leaving me truly considering the lengths I would travel to help my own daughter. Lisa Mannetti’s story of a Nazi concentration camp follows this trend, forcing the reader to understand how far others would go to help people they barely know. Neil Gaiman’s contribution to this anthology, “The Problem with Susan” ripped apart a chunk of my childhood.
Each story in this anthology comes at you full steam. Christopher Coake’s “Dominion” and Mercedes M. Yardley’s “Water Thy Bones” are each a solid addition. I found myself thinking about them hours after I’d finished them. Paul Tremblay’s “A Haunted House is a Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken,” however, took it to another level. I don’t want to spoil it, but to say this is the story I had the most fun reading is a very true statement, as messed up as that sounds in a review of a horror book. It’s a fantastic romp through a haunted house set to a tone that brought back my childhood. Trust me when I tell you not to leave the house until you’ve been in every room.
Damien Angelica Walters brings us an all too real look at the kind of life teenagers face today in “On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes.” The rejection that character faces from the ones she needs the most follow the rejection she’s already endured. If that’s not horror, I don’t know what is. Richard Thomas offers “Repent” a story about how everyday life is as rigged as a carnival game. Horror Master Clive Barker hits us with his story “Coming to Grief,” in which a young woman returns to her hometown for her mother’s funeral. She finds that the thing that she feared the most as a child is now disappointingly safe, having no idea that it’s more unstable than she believes.
My favorite story in the collection, John F.D. Taff’s, “Cards for his Spokes, Coins for his Fare,” brought back memories of my childhood, riding my bike where I wasn’t supposed to. True beauty lies in the fog in that house. “Cellar’s Dog” by Amanda Gowin, tells the tale of a woman who finds beauty in places she would have never imagined. It might be fleeting, but it changes her life forever. Kevin Lucia’s “When We All Meet at the Ofrenda” made me truly care about the protagonist and continued that theme I liked at the beginning of what we’d do for our loved ones. “Hey, Little Sister” by Maria Alexander continued that with a character seeking revenge to make things up to his beloved sister.
Josh Malerman is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. His story, “The One You Live With” only increased that love. If there is one story that really stuck with me from this book, this is it. It was the second one I read (I’m not afraid to admit I didn’t read them in order) and I’m still thinking about the ramifications of what I read ten days later. Ramsey Campbell closes the book with his tale, “A Place of Revelation.” It’s a tale of a boy with an ability to see things he never asked to see.
Overall, this book is everything I wanted it to be and so much more. I can’t get over the amazing interior art work, created by Luke Spooner, either. This is a quality book from cover to cover. If this team keeps cranking out anthologies at this level, I see nothing but great things happening for them. Highly recommended.
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