With stories by Clive Barker, John F.D. Taff, Paul Tremblay, and Neil Gaiman, how can you go wrong? You just plain can’t. Add in a few authors who I was somewhat familiar with and a few more I had never even heard of and there’s a lot to love here. Murano and Ward have assembled a collection of what they call “beautiful horror stories.” Other than that, this is not technically a themed anthology. These stories are literary, they are poetic, they deal with themes all humans are familiar with and have been used over and over and over again. Yet—they are all still unique in their own way. As with any anthology, there are some stories that are stronger than others, but thankfully no stinkers.
The strongest story in my opinion is Paul Tremblay’s “A Haunted House Is a Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken.” It is constructed like a Choose Your Own Adventure story about a girl visiting a house haunted by the ghosts of her past. Depending on how you decide to read it, the story could technically get locked in a forever-long loop, which is the most terrifying element. If I had been in a different state of mind when reading it, I might have still been trapped. Tremblay just has a wonderful style, and he hasn’t disappointed me yet. My second favorite story in the collection is “Picking Splinters” by Brian Kirk, an extremely dark and hopeless tale about a man whose lost daughter is found many years after she went missing. Yowza. I was pretty exhausted after reading that one. Kirk is now on my list of “Authors I Need to Read More Of.”
Style is a big deal in this book, perhaps even more so than plot. Yes, every story has some sort of plot (although some were easier to follow than others), but what’s most important about Gutted is that every writer has a distinct voice and approach to their pieces. They cannot be interchanged, which I think is one of the main keys to being a good writer. No one else can write your story as well as or better than you.
The cover art is pretty great (and appropriate), and each story is accompanied by a black and white Luke Spooner illustration (a man whose work I was definitely familiar with since one of his illustrations preceded a story of mine a few years ago). Nothing more to really say about this one except that you should probably pick up a copy. You know, because it’s real good and all that stuff.