Samuel Marzioli’s collection of horror short stories, Hollow Skulls and Other Stories (released Jan. 8, I was lucky to get an eARC to review), is gripping, terrifying, and frequently unsettling like a sliver of ice buried deep in my spine. From the first page, his command of language, and the way he used words and construction to linger and create a discordant tone set the stage for the horror he was writing and made me dread (in a good way) the stories to come.
More than anything, each story had a moment, a line, a word somewhere in the beginning before everything went wrong that lingered in my mind. A dissonance that I knew would resolve the harmonic tension… but rather than bringing the song to a pleasing harmony it always paid off with a growing sense of dread, and eventually the realization that the thing I feared was inevitable and terrible.
The first story, “A Pocket of Madness” was one the strongest tales and it, along with “Hollow Skulls” presented Marzioli deftly presented protagonists on the fraying edge of sanity. Both left me wondering whether the world they experienced was “real” or a creation of their unsettled psyche. In “Hollow Skulls” in particular, the terror of seeing what was coming but desperately wishing for something else to come to pass gripped me from the beginning. Together, these stories stood out as worth the price of admission.
“Penelope’s Song” takes on the point of view of a woman with developmental issues who lives in a group home. He give her a voice (a thing that is somewhat ironic given the story) and uses the story to hold a mirror to how our society treats the infirm.
“So Praise Him” carries revivalist Christianity to it’s unnerving final conclusion and does so in a way that neither feels dismissive nor exploitative of the faith it uses as a base.
This is a collection with bone-chilling reads. Marzioli uses the genre as a knife to cut deeply into, among other topics, parenthood, mental health, religion and group-worship-dynamics, the treatment of the mentally vulnerable. It’s absolutely a collection worth picking up.
Buy from your local independent bookseller if possible (I included a bookshop.org link, which I think somehow works as an intermediary to indy booksellers), Amazon if you must.
Bookshop.org: Hollow Skulls and Other Stories
Amazon: Hollow Skulls and Other Stories