GUTTED: BEAUTIFUL HORROR STORIES, edited by Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward. Book review

GUTTED: BEAUTIFUL HORROR STORIES, edited by Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward, Crystal Lake, e/b £0.99.

Reviewed by Stewart Horn

A horror anthology with that subtitle – how can one resist?

After an effusive introduction by Richard Chizmar we hit the ground running with Stephanie Wytovich’s poetic The Morning After was Filled With Bone, in which a skeleton admires her own decaying reflection while reflecting on her life and death. Sensual and literary enough to remind me of Sylvia Plath’s most intimate poetry.

Up next is Brian Kirk’s dark and highly disturbing Picking Splinters from a Sex Slave, in which love and child abuse seem to co-exist happily. Lisa Mannetti explores how individual morality can shift under extreme circumstances in Arbeit Macht Frei, and Neil Gaiman challenges C. S. Lewis’s reactionary morality in The Problem of Susan.

In reviewing the notes I made when reading the stories, I see certain words crop up again and again: atrocity, beautiful, sensual, ambiguity, ghosts, regret, personal, tragic. I called Mercedes Yardley’s Water Thy Bones “a glorious hymn to self-harm”, and even Clive Barker eschews his usual grand sweeping fiction in favour something rather more intimate.

The book finishes with Ramsay Campbell doing what he does best in The Place of Revelation, in which a creepy uncle sneaking into a child’s bedroom at night is even more sinister than it sounds. It’s a layered, elegant and disturbing tale, and I got a little thrill in seeing a story set once more in Campbell’s fictional town of Brichester.

These are only the highlights in a book that hits the target time after time. The anthology lives up to its subtitle: there is so much beauty that the horror seems appealing, undermining the reader and inviting us as willing accessories in some truly awful events.

I’ve read several Crystal Lake publications and this is their best yet. Stunningly good.