Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell, Kevin...

From Bram Stoker Award-nominated publisher, Crystal Lake Publishing, and the editing duo who brought you the best-selling and critically acclaimed small-town Lovecraftian horror anthology Shadows Over Main Street, comes Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories—a disturbing journey into the beauty that rests inside the very heart of darkness.

Awe meets ache. Terror becomes transcendence. Regret gives way to rebirth.

Fifteen short stories and one poem span nearly every twisted corner of the horror and dark fiction genres:

Author Bio

  • Critic Score:89/100

    Our Review Ranking:

    A Great Read

 

Our Review

Cover:

Just as the title suggests, the cover is both beautiful and horrific. The beauty is the natural contrast between the living and the dead, which was showcased masterfully on this cover design.

Book Blurb:

The book's blurb begins with the promise of a great collaboration - a promise definitely fulfilled - and the teasers build on a reader's curiosity and hope for an unforgettable read. The mention of both critically acclaimed writers and the introduction of those who are up-and-coming bring with them an excitement to be further fuelled when the reader beings the first enticing page.

Formatting :

It was smart to begin with the poem, which set the tone for the entire anthology. "The Morning After Was Filled with Bone" presents each major element later projected by the gruesome, cruel, and desperate tales. An image for each title served as a thrilling transitional tool to help the reader along as they move from one tale to the next, eager to delve deeper into the abyss.

Grammar & Spelling:

The first few tales were masterfully created and have obviously been through an editor or two, but some stories had jarring moments where the prose didn't line up. The jagged moments in "On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes" and "Cellar's Dog" stole the immersion from the reader, leaving behind a disappointing aftertaste.

Character Development:

As previously stated, Miriam's character didn't live up to the hype the other characters in the collection created. She didn't belong, whereas the others danced smoothly among each other. They were all broken in their own way, and knew horrors all too well. The other characters lived naturally, creating an environment that makes the reader want to learn more, while Miriam demanded a reader understand her thoughts. It wasn't enough to entice me and I didn't finish the tale, so I can't comment on how she developed. As for the numerous other characters, they either developed into something entirely different or were unable to develop at all, which was appropriate for their own stories. Eligia's character brought tears to my eyes while Scott had me weeping into a box of Kleenex. Michael and Nikilie built intrigue within me and Laticia made me proud. Nearly all the other characters were memorable for their tales and will stay with me long after I've forgotten my distaste for Miriam.

Plot & Structure:

Each of the anthology's tales created a buzz - whether it was the thrill of a moment, the fear of the inevitable, the anticipation of the unknown or the unease in the pit of a reader's stomach. Unfortunately, one story stood out for its poor structure and tired prose. "Coming to Grief," while written by an accomplished author, was not a favorite. In fact, the main character's relationship with the abandoned quarry seemed limitless in a tiring way. So Miriam leaves her hometown to find herself but when she returns some things are still the same. It didn't present enough intrigue and I couldn't read past the third or fourth page. It couldn't reel me in the way the others did and seemed out of place. Beyond this one odd tale, the plot and structure of the others were fascinating and nearly perfect.

Pacing:

While reading the poem, it felt right to take my time and ease into the imagery. The lazy, yet startlingly urgent tempo of the second tale sped things up but I knew it was a tale still meant to be swallowed in smaller bites. As the collection progressed, the pacing moved between a crawl and light jog, building and settling appropriately. The only wrench in the entire system? "Coming to Grief." It's pacing was so painfully slow I couldn't appreciate it for what it was. Perhaps one day I'll go back to finish it, but I'm still basking in the afterglow of the other tales and I'm not quite ready to tackle it again.

Use of Language:

Most of the dialogue and narration seemed natural, very little was forced or over-the-top. What brought this score down was the pacing of Miriam's inner dialogue and a few moments here and there among the other tales. A word here, a phrase there, and the illusion was gone for a moment, but the other stories gently pulled us back in so we momentarily forgot we had nearly stepped out.

Originality:

Many of the tales presented in Gutted began in predictable directions. The simple twists thrown into them made for a better read and some titles had me on my toes the entire time. We all knew Scott wasn't going to make it and Hannah was going to find a way past the rape. What we didn't know were the details of "how," which was more than enough to keep me reading. Sometimes old storylines can be made fresh with a good twist or two, peppered with graphic imagery and a touch of brokenness.

Overall Readability:

When reading the collection in order, as Richard Chizmar suggests in his Foreword, the overall readability of the anthology is eternal. The reader is pulled across a field of wildflowers mixed with broken glass ground into the topmost layer of the fertile soil. With every moment of beauty there is a lingering pain that promises to grow with each new tale. Why we subject ourselves to this anguish is equal parts the attractive dance of prose, the shock of Goliath emotions and the quiet understanding waiting just beneath the surface. By the end of "The Place of Revelation," the reader is left exhausted, but all the better for it. The first read might be over, but Gutted is worthy of a place on a worn bookshelf and many more quiet nights.

A Note From the Critic:

Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories is an anthology of horrific tales presenting the absolute worst of humanity. The haunting beauty found in each story and poem creates an atmosphere of sophisticated horror that both thrills and crushes, which of course appropriates the title Gutted.

Not all of the tales move in surprising directions at the end, but each does elicit grief, regret, loathing or fear from the reader. Following every story, the reader requires a small amount of time to contemplate and heal before moving to the next - anyone who doesn’t is missing the point.

Overall, the collection served as a looking glass into the human condition – what people are capable of, what they can achieve and overcome, and what makes them tick. Thank you for the opportunity to read this fine anthology and for seeking out the talent necessary to make a good collection great.

 

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