This will be no surprise to any long-term readers of this site, but I read a lot of horror/weird/strange short-fiction. And I try to make sure I'm reading work not just by the established names but by newer authors - by which I mean those who've yet to release a first collection. Of course, a lot of these stories prove to be not so great, but when I do read a new author whose work seems promising I'm sure to make a note of their name - to include them in my end of year short story lists; to keep them in mind for future books I might edit; and of course to remind me to buy their debut collection when it is released.
J.A.W. McCarthy's debut was definitely on my list to buy, and I'm here to tell you that her first collection Sometimes We're Cruel definitely doesn't disappoint. In fact it's one of the best debuts of the year.
There are twelve stories here—six reprints, six original—and every one is original in conception and accomplished in execution. McCarthy takes varied and disparate horror tropes— including ghosts, psychic invasion, wicked (step)mothers, doppelgängers, body horror, Frankenstein-ish creations—and fuses them together with unifying themes and imagery. The stories speak to each other, echo each other, without ever becoming samey or indistinct. I get the sense that, as well as carefully crafting each of these individual stories, McCarthy has taken the time to order and structure this book as a collection as well. As someone who approaches the ordering of a collection in the same way I used to make mix-tapes for friends at university, I appreciated this very much.
I talked above about this book in the context of a first collection, but that's not really fair: Sometimes We're Cruel isn't a 'promising' first book, it's a collection of fully realised brilliance by an author who, whatever she goes on to accomplish, has already created something very special.