Review: Wounds – Six Stories from the Border of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud

Rating: 9.0/10

Synopsis

A gripping collection of six stories of terror—including the novella “The Visible Filth,” the basis for the upcoming major motion picture—by Shirley Jackson Award–winning author Nathan Ballingrud, hailed as a major new voice by Jeff VanderMeer, Paul Tremblay, and Carmen Maria Machado—“one of the most heavyweight horror authors out there” (The Verge).

In his first collection, North American Lake Monsters, Nathan Ballingrud carved out a distinctly singular place in American fiction with his “piercing and merciless” (Toronto Globe and Mail) portrayals of the monsters that haunt our lives—both real and imagined: “What Nathan Ballingrud does in North American Lake Monsters is to reinvigorate the horror tradition” (Los Angeles Review of Books).

Now, in Wounds, Ballingrud follows up with an even more confounding, strange, and utterly entrancing collection of six stories, including one new novella. From the eerie dread descending upon a New Orleans dive bartender after a cell phone is left behind in a rollicking bar fight in “The Visible Filth” to the search for the map of hell in “The Butcher’s Table,” Ballingrud’s beautifully crafted stories are riveting in their quietly terrifying depictions of the murky line between the known and the unknown.

Review

Wounds is a beautiful yet deeply unsettling collection. This set of stories is going to stay with me into the deepest dark of night, chilling me to the marrow and leaving me with a constant sense of unease. I can say without a shadow of doubt that I have not read anything like it.

I had the pleasure of meeting the author at a Noir at the Bar event in Birmingham last November and heard him read a passage from one of the collection’s stories, The Butcher’s Table. From the pure grittiness and atmosphere that the short passage exuded, I knew that I had to grab a copy of Wounds and stick it near the top of my TBR. Well, I did better than that. I grabbed the audiobook a few days back and ratcheted it up the mountain.

If you read tons of collections or anthologies, you sort of expect that there will always be a story or two that you don’t exactly connect with, let alone enjoy. Whether it has to do with characters, tone, pacing, plot, etc. It is an unfortunate thing that happens, but I don’t know many authors that can pull it off.

But Ballingrud did. HE DID THE DAMN THING.

Included are some of the most disturbing stories I have come across in my horror reading “career” and immediately cement the author on my must-read list. Tales of diabolists, ghouls, cannibals, artifacts from Hell itself, and much more. These lead to stories rich in cosmic, occult, and even fantasy horror.

The two (2) that stood out the most for me were “The Visible Filth” and “The Butcher’s Table”; the first being the basis for the Hulu original film “Wounds” and the second being a brand-new novella. The imagery alone in both of these stories are enough to keep you wanting more, but the prose mixed with the multitude of unsettling occurrences left me salivating.

I don’t enjoy going in-depth with every story because I want you to find out what happens for yourself. All I can say is that you may want to leave the lights on.

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