I loved reading and reviewing Garden of Fiends (2017). It was not only the first book I reviewed on Literary Retreat but also my foremost foray into addiction horror. Who better to edit it than Mark Matthews who is known for his own brand of dread namely Wicked Run Press. It is truly a blessing that we have finally gotten a sequel: Lullabies For Suffering (2020) again edited by Mark. Some of the authors return; others don’t. But one similarity both instalments have is that they are unputdownable reads.
Lullabies For Suffering is an anthology of novella/novelette length works that revolve around the theme of addiction horror. This is personified well by the very unsettling, albeit tacky, book cover that makes a play on cliche horror, except with drugs as a twist. There are a total of six stories in this collection.
Note: Individual stories are rated at the end of the article. The cumulative figure calculated from the total ratings forms the overall rating of the collection.
The first story in the collection is Sometimes They See Me by Kealan Patrick Burke which is in essence a love story, about two junkies who meet each other unexpectedly and go on a journey together searching for new highs while they try to deal with their traumatic past. Their journey, while interesting, and even wholesome at times, has a tendency to be drawn out and could have been compressed. Towards the end, however, when the climax of the story draws closer, the descriptive imagery the author uses is fantastic and makes you picture the shapes and colours so vividly that you end up wanting more. The ending, however, was confusing, which was probably the writer’s intention, but nonetheless, felt unsatisfying. Overall, this was the weakest story in the collection.
Secondly, we have Monsters by Caroline Kepnes, that follows the story of an eighteen-year-old boy whose mother is struggling with rehab and of his encounter with his neighbor and her twelve-year-old daughter. This tale comprises mainly of the thoughts of these three characters which are showcased brilliantly by the author, whether it’s Vince’s own insecurity or Ariel’s innocent way of dealing with her trauma; each character’s thoughts are expressed uniquely and makes you seem like you are literally in their mind. The story makes you feel constantly uneasy and while the masterful ending is somewhat wholesome, and wraps up the story beautifully, readers eventually realize how sad it really is. However, to consider this story as an addiction horror is a bit of a stretch and it could be considered more of a psychological thriller. Nonetheless, it is a must-read.
Lizard by Mark Matthews follows the present story of a probation officer, nicknamed Lizard, as she visits her new case and her past recollections of how she became who, or what, she is. Things quickly turn wrong as Lizzie’s traumas catch up to her, which is explained gradually through seamless time lapse scenes of the past. This story has the best descriptions from all the stories in this collection, although sometimes overdone, and Matthews manages to paint such vivid and trippy images in the second half that the reader has to pinch themselves at the end to remember they aren’t inside the story. This story is a rollercoaster and makes you feel a whole spectrum of emotions and is easily in the top three of the collection.
The Melting Point of Meat has to be, by far, one of the best novella stories ever written. The imagery that John F.D. Taff manages to use is something that has never been seen before and makes one genuinely afraid to see into his mind. The story starts off with major life events that shape Livy’s somewhat niche addiction to pain that makes her constantly wanting bigger highs so that she can discover the purpose of her need. While the initial half of the story is a little slow, the second half is so horrifying and mind-shattering that readers will not be able to ever forget it, with a climactic ending that will leave readers truly shaken to their core, and shaken.
Beyond the Reef is a story that is written from the point of view of a father, Adam, as he writes in his diary for his daughter, telling her how his addiction led to the very moment where he sits awaiting his probable demise. Initially, the story seems to be a very cliche tale of a heroin addict until the grand twist that makes you realize Gabino Iglesias went a very different direction with the prompt and the story suddenly becomes unputdownable till the very end. There is a lot of creativity showcased in this story which makes it the most unique one in this collection and a pleasant surprise.
Love is a Crematorium is a love story showcasing teenagers in love that are seemingly destined for each other, even after they find themselves in crippling problems, until addiction slowly tears them apart. The writer, Mercedes M. Yardley, does very well through psychological horror shown through the innocence of Kelly, who readers cannot help feel sorry for, and the traumas of Livy, who is desperately trying to erase the memory of her abusive father. This story can be very hard to read as you watch these characters fall apart with a very sad and satisfying ending that makes it truly a lullaby for suffering.
Buy Lullabies For Suffering on Amazon by visiting this page.
Check out my review of Garden of Fiends here.
Read my 2017 interview of Mark Matthews by clicking on this link.