Sometimes we're cruel by J.A.W.McCarthy
Updated: Jan 7
Jen McCarthy’s “Sometimes we are cruel” is dominated by body horror and possession, and given that this collection contains 12 stories, you might be forgiven for thinking that the subjects would tend to be repetitive - not so. In fact, the opposite is the case, as McCarthy delivers radically different scenarios with character-driven protagonists, both good and bad, to make you squirm through all 170 pages of her memorable debut collection of short stories and a mesmerizing array of voices and horrific situations.
I fell on this book after being impressed with the flawless voice McCarthy delivered in Scott Moses’ anthology of horror, “What one wouldn’t do…”, her “With Animals” being one of my favorite pieces in the book, and being the first story, set up my anticipation of the rest of that collection, Individual enough to stand out, a not inconsiderable task given the talent on show within that book, she delivered a really great piece on necromancy.
The Novella that rounds off this collection, “Girls tied to trees” is one of the highlights here, the MC distinctive in her ticks and beliefs, as she fights off facing her past, wonderfully shown piece by piece to the reader in a great coming of age tale, but there are some finger clenching cringe-inducing moments in the book, When your ghost comes in opening with a belter, and firmly establishing itself as not only a great take on the possession trope, but showcasing the brutality I wanted more of – McCarthy promises body horror in almost all of the tales, but also delivers that shocking sudden violence that we horror readers crave – confirming our worst nightmares and providing the release of tension we knew was always going to happen. That she does so with cold clarity and unflinching detail really makes you sit up and pay attention – here is a voice that is only just emerging, but already the potential here is phenomenal. “One to watch” probably doesn’t do her work justice.
Contrition was a nice short, not least for the inclusion of the paranormal experience-inducing filmmaker's name. "A. Todesfurchten"? Hmm. A fear of death? My beady Austrian eye is onto you, Lady.
Some of the stories hit harder than others, that’s might be due to my spreading them out, my mood at the time of reading, but when I think back over the anthology as a whole, the overarching feeling I had was of respect for the storytelling, being impressed at the range and characterization, and the over-arching mood of dread that was injected into every piece.
A very solid 4 ⭐’s and I can’t wait for a longer piece (Novel / Novella), something to really get my teeth into. Like ears. Or intestines. Or wherever Jen is going to take us next.
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