Monday 8 April 2013

Scratching The Surface.

I've been a fan of Michael Kelly's editorial skills for some time now as evidenced in the literary horror journal Shadows and  Tall Trees published by Undertow Books. He obviously has a fine eye for high quality stories so I was very much looking forward to reading some of his own stories to see if that expertise was mirrored in his own writing.
Scratching the Surface, a recently re-issued collection, is proof indeed that this is the case.
It's one of the most impressive collections I've read in some time, each story within it is individually perfectly pitched and written but as a whole they combine to make this a sublime reading experience.
I'll quote here from John Pelan's original 2007 introduction to the collection in which he says "These are stories that not only make you think, they make you feel." That's as good a definition of what art is, what art does, there is and it's a sentiment I entirely agree with in regard to this collection. These stories will make you feel, and what they make you feel won't always be pleasant or comfortable. Difficult issues are tackled within these pages, issues we probably don't want to have to face up to ourselves, issues it's certainly difficult to write about but Michael Kelly does so with great skill and a gentle, almost poetic prose that makes the reading itself a pleasurable experience even when the narratives take us into dark places.
This is an examination of the human condition and underlines the truth that the real horrors are the ones of our own making. These stories truly do scratch beneath the surface of what it is to be human, uncovering the darkness therein. It's deeply emotional writing, with beautiful metaphors and allegory which somehow make the "quiet" horror all the more profound. There's a supernatural element to many of the stories but this is handled with aplomb and great skill and never lessens, indeed often enhances, the emotional impact of the writing.
I can't single out any of the stories for special praise as I enjoyed all twenty to the same extent. That said, the order of the stories has been well chosen, the themes of the book flowing and developing as you make your way through it. The final lines of the final story, Worse Things, are an absolute bombshell and left me with goosebumps.
Scratching The Surface is a stunning collection of stories that I can't recommend highly enough.

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