I’m a man who appreciates innovation. It doesn’t take avant-garde insanity to grab my attention, just the gumption to approach things a little differently. As a writer and avid reader, I especially love books with an innovative approach. For this particular project, John F.D. Taff can proudly claim the title of visionary. Inspired by a crude scribble in a public restroom, Taff eventually decided to assemble a crew of miscreants and madmen with one goal in mind: each write a novella with the title “I Can Taste the Blood.” The result? A themed anthology that essentially has no theme at all. The five stories contained within could not be more disparate from one another, but they still fit so perfectly well together. Allow me to elaborate a bit.
The first story, by Josh Malerman, succeeds for two main reasons: 1. It exists outside of the restraints of an era, and 2. It is pretty goddamned creepy. A slow burn about a man pursued in the desert by a mysterious fiend that will eventually get under your skin and burrow so deep that you can’t remove it, not even with tweezers.
J. Daniel Stone is the mastermind behind the next story. If someone had shown me this story with no author’s name attached to it and told me it was an unpublished story written by Clive Barker circa The Books of Blood, I might have believed them (and, just to be clear, that should be considered a compliment of the highest order). This is not to say the story relies on sheer pastiche, but it does swim in the same stream as Barker’s early work. Perverse grotesqueries abound, waxing poetic about the boundaries of film and art.
Up third is Joe Schwartz. Less horror, more transgressive crime fiction about bad men doing even worse things. It jumps around in time a bit, which I can definitely dig. I really loved his style overall and without a doubt want to read more from him in the future. However, his ending did commit what I consider to be a cardinal sin in fiction. He almost got away with it, though, and he probably would have had he pushed it just a little further. A minor gripe in an otherwise killer story, though. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Christ? Where do I even start with Erik T. Johnson? A mad genius? Perhaps. I can’t make a single lick of sense of his story, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it. I like a good challenge. Imagine Gummo by way of Beckett and Burroughs and you’ll be somewhere in the ballpark, but also so far off you might as well be in a different galaxy. Who needs a clear, traditional plot when the language is this mind-melting, when the entire vibe of the tale is like a ganon of leeches sucking your soul away? Exhausting in the best way possible.
The final story is written by the man John F.D. Taff himself. I’ve been raving about Taff for a while…I really do think he’s one of the most underrated writers in horror today. He’s been called the “King of Pain” for good reason. His stories have this way of tapping into the deepest, darkest canyons of your soul. Terrifying, but with a strong emotional core. No joke…one of Taff’s stories in his Little Deaths collection actually had me bawling on my lunch break at work. Though every story in this collection is a standout in its own way, Taff takes the crown here. This story is a bit more gruesome than his usual fare. It takes body horror to a new extreme, but never loses the sensitivity that is ultimately Taff’s brand. I promise, you’ll never think of teeth and mouths the same again.
I can’t recommend this anthology enough. Grey Matter Press continues to prove why they are such a strong force in the modern world of horror literature.