Wounds To Wishes (Dark Tides book 1)
Wounds To Wishes is the first title in a new series from Crystal Lake. Called Dark Tides, these titles encompass works that sit on the boundaries of the horror, thriller and suspense genres. This opening outing contains three novellas; The Strangest Twist Upon Her Lips by Chad Lutzke, My Only Sunshine, by Robert Ford, and Suet by John Boden. Each novella stands alone, but they contain overlapping themes covering loss, regret, mortality, and grief, with a deeply American blue collar sensibility.
The Strangest Twist Upon Her Lips by Chad Lutkze concerns a protagonist whose wife has recently committed suicide; indeed, as the story opens, the unfortunate man is confronted with her body, floating in the bathtub where she took her own life. As with previous works of Lutzke I’ve reviewed for this site, especially Stirring The Sheets, this story is a study in grief and grieving; an aching portrait of an attempt to survive an indigestible loss.
Lutske writes about emotional pain with intelligence and without mawkish sentimentality, and even as the situation is excruciating, his careful and unshowy prose leads you through it step by step; a safe hand to hold in the emotional carnage. As the narrative unfolds, the layers of the relationship reveal piece by piece, via a list of shared dreams and ambitions, while the suicide note, unread, looms larger and larger, leading to an conclusion I found unexpected and satisfying. I think work in this vein is incredibly difficult to pull off well, and Lutzke does it very, very well indeed.
My Only Sunshine takes in another portrait of grief; this time, our protagonist is Caroline, who is attempting to hold her life together after the recent murder of her young daughter. This is my first experience with Robert Ford as a solo author (I’ve read Rattlesnake Kisses, his collaboration with John Boden, the third author in this collection) and I was hugely impressed; the prose is lean and efficient, and he has a real gift for letting a simple turn of phrase sit with the reader. He also has a superb grasp of how to integrate the supernatural with the natural; grounding the fantastical moments in a setting that is essentially mundane, and brilliantly realized.
Caroline is very well drawn character; flawed but hugely sympathetic, carrying an impossible emotional burden; and, again, Ford has a strong grasp of how to show this without belaboring the point; indeed, the matter of fact way both he and Caroline deal with that grief rings very true, and carries so much more weight than purple prose would have achieved. Supernatural elements aside, at the core of this story is an emotional crime thriller, and the way Ford navigates that narrative, leading to a classic ‘Aha!’ moment in the final pages, is really impressive. A truly accomplished story from a clearly incredibly talented storyteller. I’ll be hunting out more of his work.
And so we come to Suet. John Boden is simply one of my favorite writers, and I’ve reviewed several of his works for this site (I also had the pleasure of interviewing him). I also consider him a friend. That said, my unusual rule applies; I only review works I finish and enjoy, regardless of the author. So, with that caveat…
Suet again has a grieving protagonist, but Corbin’s situation is cut from a different cloth; the grandparents that mostly raised him have recently passed, and he has the unwelcome task of clearing out the family farm they left behind. He’s also, as we meet him, recently quit his job at a retirement home, despite not having any obvious prospects. It’s a fascinating bit of prose; Corbin himself is a determined stoic, and Boden’s prose reflects this deeply matter of fact man’s mindset; nevertheless, Boden paints a vivid portrait of a man suffering profound emotional burnout and depression.
It’s a quite extraordinary piece of writing; I’ve read enough of Boden’s work to appreciate just how big his range is in terms of voice, but even so, I was deeply impressed by how well he deployed a stripped down style to get us behind the eyes of Corbin and his internal processes.
Once Corbin situates himself in the old homestead, we start to encounter some classic horror tropes, in the form of a house that time forgot, a closed-off second floor and a set of journals. That said, these are classics for a reason, and in Boden’s hands, we’re given a real treat; folk and cosmic horrors entwined with deep southern roots, a portrait of a tough way of life, isolation, and the deals people will make to survive.
If you wanted to tease out allegories, you could, but you don’t need to; this story stands clearly on its own two feet and scares the shit out of you by sheer force of storytelling, ratcheting up the horror throughout the final third in exquisite fashion. And the closing chapter is absolutely brutal, leaving me with a sense of bleak, inescapable fatalism and dread. Yet another extraordinary tale, from a brilliant storyteller whose craft and voice(s) continue to deeply impress.
Overall, this is an excellent collection of tales; whilst there are overlapping themes, each author has a distinct enough voice and story to tell that it felt complimentary without being samey. Combining the three novellas also led to a satisfyingly sized book that I nonetheless read very quickly, thanks to the compelling nature of the stories.If you’re looking for an Americana tinged walk on the emotional dark side, this one will be right up your alley.
Wounds to Wishes: Tales of Mystery and Melancholy
- Publisher : Crystal Lake Publishing (23 Aug. 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 162 pages
Three separate yet strangely connected novellas kick off Crystal Lake’s Dark Tide series with stories of Mystery and Suspense.
THE STRANGEST TWIST UPON HER LIPS by Chad Lutzke: When a suicide note is just too much to bear, an absurd celebration of life feels like the only way out. While avoiding the suicide note his fiancé left behind, a grief-stricken man tackles a bucket list the two had made together, fulfilling entries that take him out of his comfort zone and into the realm of skid-row voodoo, where truths are finally revealed. Another grief horror yarn from the author of Stirring the Sheets and Of Foster Homes and Flies.