"If it bleeds, it's Leeds."
These days, it's tough to be scary.
We as a culture have become largely desensitized to horror in every form. We've seen the human body creatively mutilated in every possible which-way, witnessed the exorcisms of so many fictional females we can't even keep their names straight anymore, and watched enough knife or chainsaw wielding psychopaths plunge their instruments into flesh to last us a lifetime. Each of these elements of horror (and many others) can certainly be executed well (heh heh), but how many of these movies or books are just a cheap scare, and how many of them are sticking with us for good? How many of them are keeping us up at night, worried about what might make its way through the darkened door of our bedroom? When was the last time you watched or read something that really shook you up?
For me, the answers to these questions would be Matthew M. Bartlett's bizarre collection of loosely-connected flash fiction and short stories, Gateways to Abomination. Never have I encountered so many completely insane ideas in one volume. Bartlett is a madman, and to the benefit of his readers.
It is difficult to articulate exactly what is so captivating about this collection. The stories are brief and written in a minimalist style. They serve more like snapshots of crazy happenings in individuals' lives than drawn out stories with developed characters, though that is not to say any of them feel lazily-crafted or incomplete. Quite the opposite. Every sentence feels intentional and tight.
Bartlett's vocabulary is grisly and consistent in tone, as if each descriptive word was chosen for the express purpose of making the reader as uncomfortable as possible. What struck me was that as gruesome and disturbing as some of the scenes in this book are, they do not feel like cheap-shots for the biggest gross-out; this is not splatterpunk by any means. The scenarios Bartlett comes up with make one feel as if they are getting a peek behind the curtain of the universe, and what is to be found there is nearly enough to break the mind.
As I mentioned, the stories are loosely connected in a thematic sense. They all exist within the same universe (in fact, the same city), characters and locations will show up in numerous stories, and what is the deal with this Ben Stockton fellow? Read it and you'll know what I mean. Between the stories, Uncle Red read's 'To-Day's News,' describing horrific and impossible happenings around the local area. Intermixed into the stories are bizarre radio broadcasts, always from WXXT, coming to you from Leeds, Massachusetts.
While the whole collection is worth reading (though maybe only one or two in a sitting; wouldn't want to lose your mind, after all), the stories that really got my goat were Pharaoh, When I Was A Boy—A Broadcast, The House in the Woods, The Theories of Uncle Jeb, The Leech, and The Arrival Parts I & II.
If you're a fan of horror in any form, do yourself a favor and buy this already. Walk into the woods. Follow the dark figure. Turn up your radio.
Gateways to Abomination can be purchased in ebook or print form here.