Earlier this year, I read Gutshot by Amelia Gray. It’s a collection of short stories, written like lightning bolts—short, crackling, stunning. Each story is an well-placed incision in the brain, offering slices of the darkly funny, the disturbing, the oddly romantic, and the grotesque.
While the collection isn’t straight horror literature, it definitely shares the aim of literary horror fiction, which as I’ve posted about before, is to acknowledge and explore the scary parts of ourselves. Gray is not afraid of the darkness. She uses her considerable skill to spin strange, visceral stories. She’s done it before with THREATS, a disorienting novel about a grieving widower who keeps finding threats hidden in the nooks and crannies of his house. She’s examined the absurd and unique in her two other short story collections, AM/PM and Museum of the Weird.
And in Gutshot, Gray expertly confronts her readers, blending genres, juxtaposing humor and sensuality with provocative scenes of body horror, weaving challenging and enigmatic premises, introducing alien yet somehow familiar characters, and refusing to explained the ensuing freakiness. If you this sounds like your cup of tea, you won’t regret following her stories into the shadowy twists and turns of the human mind.
I for one loved her stories for both the writing and the subjects. Despite how uncomfortable I felt reading some of the stories, I really enjoyed the disturbing and profound ideas Gray wrote about. Stories like “The Monuments,” force us to consider feelings of resentment and loss. “The Moment of Conception,” hits so hard and so unexpectedly, surreal and destructive and savage and riveting even as you want to look away.
My favorite story was “Fifty Ways to Eat Your Lover,” an obvious play on the Paul Simon song. This story has haunted me ever since I read it months ago. It’s a list of instructions for all the ways a woman can eat her male lover over the life of their relationship. The story is jarring, contrasting the mundane milestones of a romance with bloody, violent impulses. It’s odd to explore the complexity of relationships in this way. Who wants to think about doing such grisly harm to a loved one? But then, are we going to pretend like we don’t feel terrible things towards our lovers, that we don’t think black thoughts about them? Let’s not kid ourselves.
Darkness is a big wild part of life. It’s half of it maybe. – Amelia Gray
The darker recesses of existence can be upsetting and unsavory, but we should pay attention to them. We should delve deeper into and acknowledge these parts of ourselves.
Recently, I reached out to Gray and asked her for an email interview (much like I did with Cody Meirick, director of the upcoming Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark documentary). I really didn’t expect her to respond, since she’s hard at work on another novel (can’t wait!). But she did respond and agreed to answer some of my questions about Gutshot!
I’ve found it gives me comfort, but there are plenty of valid reasons why someone else wouldn’t want to go there. – Amelia Gray
(This interview was conducted via email.)
Stories for Ghosts: I’m a big fan of horror movies and scary stories because of their capacity both to entertain and to provoke deeper reflection. People often ask me why subversive and shocking things fascinate me. Has anyone ever asked you why you write stories like in Gutshot? What do you tell them?
Amelia Gray: Darkness is a big wild part of life. It’s half of it maybe. I find there’s actually a lot of light in Gutshot, funny stuff and love and romance and people working hard and trying their best. And maybe this is just me feeling very used to these stories, which are between one year and six years old, but I don’t find anything in them any more shocking than the standard kinds of evening-news things. I tell stories because I want to understand ideas.
SFG: I noticed that many of the stories in Gutshot focused on relationships. Did you intend this focus, or did that happen organically? If you intended this, what was your aim in exploring that topic?
AG: Well so, my biggest interest is in ideas. Each of the stories in the book has a kernel of an idea about grief or love or memory or anger, and in order to express the idea I set up a story, which might come to have some violence in it, or a romance skewed through the idea, or a relationship between a parent and child. Thinking about this book it was rare that I would start with a particular character in mind. “Precious Katherine” and “Go For It and Raise Hell” are character driven, voice driven pieces, but most of the others have an idea as their heart with scenes and people placed around them.
SFG: Weeks after reading some of these stories, I’m still mulling them over, specifically “The Moment of Conception,” and “Monument.” Were there any specific stories that haunted you after you finished them? Which ones and why?
AG: “Away From” was a hard story for me to write, a hard one to revise, a hard one to read and a hard one to think about still. I was reading about a serial killer who was caught in 2009 living in what they came to call the Cleveland House of Horrors. Almost all of the pieces I was reading seemed to dismiss these eleven women, the victims, citing their sex work or drug use, or their criminal records. The implication of those articles made me sick. I couldn’t stand to read his name over and over and none of theirs. I wanted to write something for them, from each of their point of view, because I wanted to know them. I tried for months and months but the story wasn’t going to work like that; I was coming off as a tourist and a fake, and the more I tried to push past that the more it felt cheap. I felt like every time I sat down to write, they were saying, “You don’t know me,” which was exactly right. In the end I had to put a lot more of my own history in there to even try to stand with them. I changed it from a series of disconnected paragraphs to a story about one woman who has elements of all of them; Telacia and Diane’s love for their kids, Michelle’s good nature, Leshanda’s fighting spirit. I recommend the pieces the The Cleveland Plain Dealer did on each woman, thorough and powerful portraits that were the exception to the rule in the writing on that case. Their names were Crystal, Tishana, Leshanda, Michelle, Tonia, Nancy, Amelda, Telacia, Janice, Kim, and Diane.
SFG: You are experienced in both short fiction and novels—do you have any thoughts on the benefits of one form over the other?
AG: Thinking about it in terms of ideas still, a novel has a chance to tackle bigger ones. It’s a simple answer but when you get the word count to go deeper into something and the space and time to get to know a character and grow and change with them–it takes me three or four years to write a novel and so I am a different person from open to end–you just naturally get a chance to explore things in a more comprehensive way.
SFG: Do you think people should read more provocative, disturbing literature?
AG: You know, it’s not for everyone. I’ve found it gives me comfort, but there are plenty of valid reasons why someone else wouldn’t want to go there.
Follow Amelia Gray on Twitter @grayamelia. Check out her website at http://ameliagray.com.