Book Review: Arterial Bloom edited by Mercedes M. Yardley
Reviewed by Daphne Strasert
Unthemed anthologies are always a bit of a gamble for the reader. Without a common thread tying the stories together, you can’t be sure that each story will hold your attention the same way. Arterial Bloom, edited by Mercedes M. Yardley and published by Crystal Lake, may be unthemed, but there is still a common core to the stories: quality. The writing in each and every story is lush and literary. The story themes vary from whimsical to harsh realism, but they are each gripping in their own way.
The Stone Door by Jimmy Bernard
This story about three sisters trying to live their lives in the place of an ever-present threat is tense and dark. Bernard uses the terror of the unknown to great effect. The story is better for being underexplained. It’s plenty terrifying as it is. A sense of hopelessness creeps in between the words as the sisters’ fight to survive keeps them from truly living.
Dog (Does Not) Eat Dog by Grant Longstaff
Longstaff uses his story to take a harsh look at interpersonal relationships during the apocalypse. What does it take to survive? Do you really want to survive if it means losing humanity? His exploration of what hardship and hopelessness may bring out in some people is frightening in its realism.
Kudzu Stories by Linda J. Marshall
Marshall turns a short story even shorter, weaving together a series of stories set in the same small town. With the backdrop of the Mississipi river, Kudzu Stories has a distinctly southern feel. Her writing conjures up hot, humid nights and crickets in the dark, with a dash of something more sinister waiting in the dense kudzu. Truly one of my favorites in this anthology.
Dead Letters by Christopher Barzak
With Dead Letters, Barzak creates a unique and heartfelt story about grief and love. I can’t give much detail without spoiler several marvelous twists, but rest assured, it’s a deeply moving and personal story that explores emotions I didn’t even know I had.
The Darker Side of Grief by Naching T Kassa
Kassa is one of my favorite authors to see in any anthology. The Darker Side of Grief is my favorite work from her so far. It’s a dark tale of a boy haunted by the death of his mother that explores the magnitude of childhood bravery. It’s traditionally scary in a way that few other stories in the anthology are.
Welcome to Autumn by Daniel Crow
Crow’s story of a missing artist and the forces working against him is twisty and trippy. His concept is fascinating and something I would love to learn more about. More than that, the small setting he uses allows him to tell the story through characters in a unique and layered way.
Still Life by Kelli Owen
Still Life is a painting made with words. The vivid imagery is nothing like I’ve ever read before. The story itself winds slowly into you with hints of terror that lurk on the sidelines. It’s a beautiful slow burn with a shocking ending.
Three Masks by Armand Rosamilia
Rosamilia tells several stories at once in Three Masks, showcasing the way two people may come to share their lives in infinite ways. Even with parallels running between each possible storyline, he manages to capitalize on shock value. You’re never sure of what will happen. It’s a literary piece that pushes the boundaries of traditional story telling.
Doodlebug by John Boden
Doodlebug tells the story of an arsonist. It’s a slow burn (ha) with a slithering sense of dread as you wait for what horror will happen next. Boden dives into the psyche of the main character, turning her psychology into the true star of the show. It’s a deeply creepy story not for any overt terror, but for the exploration that there could be any sort of monster hiding behind the façade of a human being.
Happy Pills by Todd Keisling
I loved Happy Pills. Keisling’s story presents a man who will try anything if it will ease the absence of feeling inside him. The description of anxiety and depression is hauntingly visceral and so accurate that it hit home for me in a powerful way. The writing is excellent, with vivid descriptions that match the Lovecraftian tone of the piece.
What Remained of Her by Jennifer Loring
What Remained of Her follows a woman’s desperate search for answers in the disappearance of her sister. The build and suspense in this story is great. The ending is nothing like you would suspect. Loring manages to create a gripping mystery worthy of a novel in a short story format.
Blue Was Her Favorite Color by Dino Parenti
Blue was Her Favorite Color honestly made me shudder as I read it. The story follows a father as he watches the grieving process of his young daughter. Parenti took his time in laying the groundwork for a truly horrifying and unexpected reveal. The creeping horror of this tale will be with me for a long time to come.
In the Loop by Ken Liu
Liu’s story is a masterpiece of technological horror. In the Loop tells the story of a woman who programs machines of war. While it could technically be considered science fiction, the truth of his story matter is much closer to the reality of today. In the Loop isn’t traditional horror, relying instead of the horror found in ethical decisions made every day.
The Making of Mary by Steven Pirie
In The Making of Mary, Pirie turns the language of science into a love letter. This story of Gaia guised in mortal flesh is more of a romance than a horror story, but it’s filled with such beautiful imagery and heartfelt characters, that it belongs alongside the rest of the writing in this anthology.
Mouths Filled with Seawater by Jonathan Cosgrove
Mouths Filled with Seawater is a complicated story woven through the mind of unreliable narrator. It’s hard to know exactly what is going on, but the confusion just adds to the concern of just what the narrator is capable of doing. Cosgrove storytelling is unique and perfectly suited to the tortured tale he presented.
Rotten by Carina Bissett
Rotten is a horror tale in a glossy fairy-tale wrapping. The story of a girl coming of age under her mother’s withering guidance is dark and painful. Bissett’s characters are sinister in the best way imaginable. They come to life under the sharp and vivid language. The series of snippets in the character’s life are each the perfect bite.
I was impressed with Arterial Bloom. Each author brought their absolute best to the table and the editor pulled together a collection of wildly different stories into a coherent piece. I recommend it whole-heartedly to fans of both horror and literature.