Book Review: Together In Terror, You and Us

We Live Inside You by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Short Story Collection Published by Swallowdown Press, 2011

Review by Michael Bryant

Author Jeremy Robert Johnson spins his yarns in a deeply introspective tone, with an unorthodox creative style that finds the soft spot in your imagination and buries the ice pick.  We Live Inside You is an anthology of short stories that are not all classic horror or weird fiction, but carry a strand of darkness and morbidity throughout.

Genocidal Buddhist monks who chant viral incantations deliver a firm and somewhat unnerving handshake as we are introduced to Mr. Johnson’s style in the opening story “The Oarsmen”. “When Susurrus Stirs” brings the reader into Johnson’s curio-phobic relationship with parasites where an apparent symbiotic relationship turns gruesome with a vulgar metamorphosis. “The Gravity of Benham Falls” is a classic ghost story that provides, as the author describes it, “…a mid-read break from all the surrounding intrafamilial homicide.”jrj-entry

“A Flood of Harriers” starts with a roadside confrontation on an Indian reservation and descends into psychedelic madness centering around the apocalyptic vision of Wokova, and “Laws of Virulence” brings us back to the parasitic horror at the center of Johnson’s mind with insidious arthropods whose hosts gaze trance-like with seaweed eyes.

The collection concludes with a bonus section; four stories including a different version of “Persistence Hunting”, which appears in the earlier part of the anthology in a more trimmed, edited form, that is one of non-weird tales but a tragic one. Also included is a review of The Mars Volta’s Album “The Bedlam in Goliath”, formatted as a supernatural story centering around the band’s encounter with a ouija board and their musical attempts to exorcise the dark forces that plague them.

Among the several stories that are not weird fiction in the collection I found “Trigger Variation” to be true horror in its rawest form, exploring the self-inflicted demons within. This story in particular stuck with me, and I still find myself drifting back to it and chewing it over. I enjoy stories that make you think, and this anthology is a buffet of food for thought.

While this collection is worth the read, it does have a couple of duds. I found “Consumerism” to fall absolutely flat, and while “States of Glass” is well written with a good story, I found myself becoming bored and began skimming to the end. However, taste varies. The author’s notes at the end provide the personal touch that always adds icing to the literary cake.

If you’re looking for writing that veers from the beaten path and isn’t afraid to experiment, We Live Inside You provides horror that shoots away from the traditional format, featuring monsters both human and otherwise. Check it out in e-format and print, and if you like what you read you can find more at jeremyrobertjohnson.com.

 4 / 5 Soul Devouring Parasites

Book Review: Turn the Radio Off

Gateways to Abomination by Matthew M. Bartlett

$3.99 e-book; $7.99 paperback from Amazon

Leeds, Massachusetts isn’t a place you want to visit.

You see, things have gone bad. Real bad. A mysterious radio station—WXXT—transmits polka music, distorted church broadcasts, snippets of history, and accounts of unspeakable terror. Just listening to the station—even once or twice, to something as harmless as atonal distortion or a folksy, repetitive sing-along—can have terrible effects on mind, body, and environment.

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Gateways to Abomination takes a lot of risks. While there are subtle narrative threads laced throughout the many stories, transmissions, transcripts, newspaper articles, and poetry-like accounts, the book is neither conventional nor linear. Each piece can be read on its own, but works best in full context. That said, stomaching more than a couple of stories at a time can be difficult. Not because they’re not well-written—because they are—but because of their nightmare-like prose and disturbing content. It’s a lot to absorb.

I’ve been consuming horror movies and literature for most of my life, and this book managed to punch through the walls of my jaded expectations. There is some truly horrific content here: gore, violence against children, body horror, and much more. What’s most disturbing is that these elements are used to facilitate a despairing sense of unavoidable damnation and suffering. This isn’t a horror work where you scream at the characters to make better decisions; if you’re in Leeds, and you’ve heard WXXT, you’re doomed, no matter what you do.

Each glimpse of the unspeakable—men covered in soul-sucking leeches, people turned into goats and vice versa, mysterious men in black hats, secret ceremonies in the woods—builds to something greater. An apocalypse of sorts is underway in New England, and we’ve got a worm’s eye view of the terror to come.

Don’t approach the book thinking of it as a short story collection. Consider it more a panoramic view of terror, of the approaching darkness, of evil in a small community that gradually infects and corrupts everything it touches.

Bartlett’s voice is strong, his scenes unnerving, his characters damnable and relatable. Gateways to Abomination is a happy discovery in the side alleys of independent horror. Readers interested in something that will push their buttons, something that will inspire a contagious sort of fear beyond the reading experience, would do well to pick up a copy of this book and support a truly unique and disturbing take on Satanic horror and weird fiction.

5/5 Dark Rituals

Book Review: Come on down to Little Dixie, ya’ll

The Little Dixie Horror Show by Mer Whinery

Published by Literati Press; available in e-book and print formats

Mer Whinery’s collection of location-specific horror stories run a unique gamut: ghostly ghoulish lot lizards, the selling of your soul for comfort and new chances, children turning to rational (hallucinogenic?) violence, a beautiful short about a haunted movie house, and a decidedly unserious novella about a transvestite monster hunter.

The sheer variety of these bizarre and genuinely creepy tales is supported by the main character – the setting. Little Dixie is a spot in Oklahoma where all the worst parts of the Deep South uprooted and made their home, spawning generations of cultural, economic, and spiritual malaise. It’s a place of deep dark and people with secrets. Whinery shows us the darkest corners of Little Dixie, sparing no detail in what amounts to grisly, gore-ific, and straight up disturbing close ups on what goes bump in the night out yonder.

Whinery’s stories, while dripping with horror, are also full of love for a bizarre and dying community of swamps, abandoned truck stops, and both the living and the dead.

I’ll buy anything Whinery publishes next. His sense of voice is fantastic, and he’s got a great appreciation for horror (Lucio Fulci gets more than a few references) literature, films, and culture.

My only complaint about the book is the editing. Another pass or two by an editor would have made a world of difference in catching a variety of errors. If my criticism seems petty, good. Because a few misspelled words and clunky fonts shouldn’t dissuade you from grabbing this spookhouse ride of an underground collection.

5/5 Ghoul-infested Truck Stops

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