Crystal Lake Publishing, edited by Doug Murano and Alexander D. Ward. Subtitled Beautiful Horror Stories, the sixteen tales within are all as disturbing and unsettling as you'd expect from some of the biggest names in the genre. And they are all exceptionally well written. There's no specific theme here, just a general commitment on the part of the authors to make their stories sing.
A few words about those pieces that I particularly enjoyed and admired below:
Stephanie M. Wytovich opens with a poem called The Morning After Was Filled with Bone. I've got to be honest, while I read classic and modernist poetry (T.S. Eliot being a particular favourite) I often find 'genre' poetry trite and old-fashioned. But maybe that's because I've not read enough, because Wytovich's poem was excellent: some fantastic imagery and controlled use of language (as you can probably tell from the title). It suitably set the tone for the anthology as a whole. I'll be reading more of her work, I imagine.
Neil Gaiman's The Problem of Susan repeats his trick of repurposing a well-known story for this own ends. And what a trick it is, in this case giving us his own playfully dark take on C.S. Lewis. (Although if you're not au fait with Lewis, Gaiman's tale would lose some of its undoubted punch.)
Water Thy Bones is a typically powerful and lyrical story from Mercedes M. Yardley; in a way the whole story is one extended poetic metaphor. Like many of the stories here it perfectly fits the brief in the anthology's subtitle: it is both beautiful and horrific. There's the scent of wonder as well as fear: a plot that in other people's hands might be body-horror becomes something more akin to Ovid's Metamorphoses.
A Haunted House is a Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken (Paul Tremblay). There's no way, I thought upon starting this story, that it can be as good as its title. It's a perfect title, so there's just no way. I was wrong. This story is as good as its title, a marvellously inventive and original take on the haunted house tale. Not just my favourite story in this book, but in the running for my favourite read this year...
Damien Angelica Walters gives us another great title with On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes. And another story that's as good as its name. A story of how small horrors - families failing to communicate, the unkindness of children, time's passing - can build into something inescapable and all-consuming. Poignant, full of sadness and regret.
John F.D. Taff's Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare is a coming of age story that reads like a combination of Bradbury and Stephen King. And those are comparisions I don't make lightly. The ending was a little too sacharine for me, but that doesn't mean other readers won't like it.
I've never read anything by Kevin Lucia before, but When We All Meet at the Ofrenda convinced me I should rectify that forthwith. An evokative and powerful piece that merges lore about the Day Of The Dead and Halloween, it's another quietly moving story about a graveyard caretaker grieving for his wife.
Most of the stories in the book are original, but there a few reprints, one of which being Ramsey Campbell stellar The Place of Revelation. This is a tale within a tale, a childhood nightmare told by one of the genre's premier prose stylists. Rereading Campbell is always a pleasure and this story loses none of its power the second time round. Just as Stephanie M. Wytovich gave Gutted a perfect opening, Campbell provides a flawless end to an excellent anthology.
Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories seems an obvious labour of love for the editors and publisher, and it shows in every aspect, including the fantastic interior art by Luke Spooner. It's a book for readers who love language as much as story, who understand that horror can be beautiful, ecstatic and revelatory as well as down-right scary (although plenty of the tales are that, too). I can't recommend it enough.