Reviewed by Stewart Horn
Gary McMahon’s name crops up a lot these days. There’s hardly a magazine or an anthology in the genre that doesn’t feature him. The simple reason is he’s really good.
McMahon’s characters tend to have real world problems: isolation, depression, disassociation; relationships are failing or already over. There aren’t many happy well-adjusted people in this book. Nor many jokes.
When the bad thing happens, it often resonates with the character’s inner state, reinforcing the horror, making it worse for the character and more intense for us. There’s also a feeling that it’s the character’s fault: that their internal condition has reached into the void and summoned the monster that can properly ruin, or end, their lives. This is most obvious in stories like ‘It Knows Where You Live’, ‘You Haven’t Seen Me’ and ‘The Grotto’.
Some of the stories make metaphors or clichés literal, and the results are both nightmarish and tinged the blackest humour. ‘When One Door Closes’, ‘Hungry Love’, ‘Truth Hurts’ and ‘Sheep’ are the best of these. In another, ‘Alice, Hanging out at the Skate Park’, he seems to have spotted a cool phrase and tried to think of the worst thing it can possibly mean.
Another group of stories are more standard horror fare, but from the literary end of the horror spectrum, and some are strange and abstract. ‘Sounds Weird’, ‘Barcode’ and the stunningly good ‘You Haven’t Seen Me’ are in this category.
In short, this is a man who understands how horror works and how to creep through a reader’s defences. Genuinely creepy, literary and beautiful.
A fine collection from one of the best writers currently working in the genre.