"Lullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Wicked Run Press
Edited by Mark Matthews
2020, 258 pages, Fiction
Released on January 7th, 2020
The beautiful thing about horror is it is all-encompassing. You can have supernatural scares like ghosts and demons; reality-based terrors like serial killers; or real-life traumas like addiction, the theme for the anthology, Lullabies for Suffering.
To be fair, though, I should clarify two things. First, while the overall theme centers on addiction and its impact, there is definitely supernatural otherness running through most of the tales found within. In addition, this is a bit of unique anthology in that rather than it being chock full of stories, its pages contain just six authors and their tales are novellas.
After an introduction by editor Mark Matthews (who also has a story in the book), Kealan Patrick Burke’s "Sometimes They See Me" kicks things off. I have read a (too small) sample of Burke’s work and have enjoyed every bit of it. I’ve said previously that he doesn’t write prose, he writes poetry, and that’s on display here as usual. “Sometimes They See Me” is quiet horror, following two addicts as they spend their days fucking and scoring until that turn inevitably comes that makes it a horror story (as if addiction wasn’t horrific enough). This piece is as heartbreaking as it is fascinating; something Burke is quite adept at.
Caroline Kepnes’ “Monsters” follows, and whoa boy, if you ever want to read a story where every single character is broken, this is for you. You have a brutally insecure young man, Vince, trying to do the right thing for his mother – who happens to be an addict. Throw in a neighbor who is more concerned about what people think about her than why her 12-year-old daughter is so sexualized, and you have just a mashup of madness and despair. This might be my introduction to Kepnes’ work, and I’m interested to read more. Her handle on Vince and his anxiety and OCD is completely on point and impressive.
While on one hand, I can empathize with addicts and the battle they are going through, I have no time for parents who affect the lives of their children. They are garbage, through and through. Mark Matthews’ “Lizard”, one of my favorites in Lullabies for Suffering, tackles this very thing in a way – without going into it as not to spoil anything – I both love and hate. “Lizard” is the titular character here, and she is a probation officer. She checks in on one of her clients, Amy, only to discover that Amy is still using. Considering Lizard’s own childhood, something Matthews dishes out a little at a time, she has no time for a drug addict raising a child and she addresses the situation. Like “Sometimes They See Me”, “Lizard” has a supernatural taste that’s both delicious and devastating.
Before this anthology, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of reading John F.D. Taff’s work, something that I desperately need to unfuck. His story here, “The Melting Point of Meat”, is a fascinating look at the pleasure of pain, it’s ultimate meaning, and the lengths some would go to achieve bliss through it. I felt myself involuntarily cringing multiple times during reading this tale, and was beginning to wonder where it was going until it finally got there. Where the prior stories hint at a Lovecraftian otherness, this one brings it on full-force and it’s delightful. That WTF ending will stay on your mind long after finishing it.
Gabino Iglesias reinforces the Lovecraftian theme with his story, “Beyond the Reef”. Full disclosure: Gabino not only reviews for Horror DNA, but he’s also a friend, so there might be bias. But he’s also a Bram Stoker finalist and Wonderland Award winner, so he’s a damn good writer regardless of my praise or criticism. That said, this one is probably my favorite of the bunch. Gabino has this delightful way of mixing crime and supernatural with a delicious Latino flavor, which he calls “barrio noir”. “Beyond the Reef” follows Adam, a junkie, as he gets himself deep into a hole he can’t climb out of in order to get that next fix. If there’s a lesson here outside of don’t do drugs, it’s probably don’t mess with those dudes that live in the sea. The way Gabino skillfully marries Lovecraft’s world with that of junkies, crime, and drugs is more than impressive and I would read the hell out of a collection of these tales should he ever put one together.
Mercedes Yardley’s “Love is a Crematorium” finishes out the anthology and while there’s nothing much supernatural about it, that doesn’t mean it’s not painful. The story centers on teens Joy and Kelly as they run away from their homes because of Joy’s abusive father. Kelly leads a good life, but he’s also a young man deep in love, so he goes along for protection. It’s not long after they arrive in the big city before things get worse. Far, far worse. While “Love is a Crematorium” lacks the otherness found in the other entries in the book, it’s still horrific in its own way. Yardley shows how close addiction can be in the right circumstances and it’s so believable this would be one I would recommend to those who think people just start doing heroin/crack/oxy for no reason at all. This story stings.
Mark Matthews did a great job here making sure Lullabies for Suffering had a fantastic mix of styles covering the same topic, as great anthologies should. I also really like the idea of keeping the author count limited so the stories have room to live and breathe free of space restrictions. This is definitely worth a read, and for those that have been close to addiction now or in the past, this one will be a little heavier.
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