Spree and Other Stories By Lucy Taylor
Review by Shane Douglas Keene
When I think of Clive Barker, I think foremost about his Books of Blood and his achingly, enviably brilliant Book of the Art series, an incomplete trilogy that currently encompasses The Great and Secret Show and Everville. And while that may seem like a strange way to open a review of a book by Lucy Taylor, I hope you’ll come to see shortly here it’s a perfectly appropriate approach. In those aforementioned works Barker embraces multiple themes, almost always with a particular emphasis on pain, human suffering, relationships, love, and sex. And it’s that emphatic observation of the human condition that makes the reference appropriate for a review of Taylor’s collection, Spree and Other Stories. Barker was a master of revulsion and dark delights, of the almost erotically sensuous nature of agony, be it physical or emotional, and he riffed heavily, almost playfully, on human sexuality and shocking, in your face violence and spine tingling horror.
And when I read the work of Lucy Taylor, Barker is the author I’m most inclined to compare her to for many of the reasons I mentioned above. She takes on similar themes and does so with the same alacrity, the same attention to details of the flesh and the heart. And while it would be unfair to say her work is vocally or even stylistically similar to his, it’s a fair assessment to say she evokes the same sort of visceral sensuality as him. Whether the prose is drenched in blood or soaked in sweat and the musk of sex, you’re always left with a ragged sense of spiritual abrasion, as if your soul has been ripped from your body and dragged across the jagged edges of a broken whiskey bottle.
I’m not going to dwell long on all the short stories in this book. I’m going to give you an overall impression–which I basically already gave you in the previous paragraphs–and touch on some major high points before moving on to the thing I think truly makes this collection special as a complete production. The fact of the matter is that Lucy’s stories always fucking rock and the tales in this book are no exception. Every single one of them is a gem in its own right and deserves a place in the spotlight. It’s a near impossibility to pick a favorite here, with standouts such as the opening “Wall of Words” in which a man builds a wall in his yard made up of words carved out of wood, all the while concealing a dark secret as he descends further into madness, on the heels of which comes the breathtaking cosmic terror trip of “Extremophiles,” a story of heavy metal obsession and brooding horror that will take your breath away and stick with you long after you read the final sentence. But if I absolutely had to choose one, the grand prize for the shorter works in this piece would go to “La Senora Blanca.” A tale set partly in a senior care facility and partly in the memories of an old woman, it’s a brilliantly dark study of love and faith and the indifference of gods and other deities. I read this story twice in a row and after marinating in the experience for three or so days, went back and read it again, my adulation only growing more intense with each read. If you were to buy this book for only one reason, “La Senora Blanca” would be more than justification enough.
But it gets even better. The second half of the book is taken up in its entirety by the title novella “Spree,” a rough ride down a path of rage and murder like nothing I’ve read in recent years, noir as fuck and mean and violent as it gets. Here, the merciless Taylor pulls out all the stops in a frenzy of sudden and shocking brutality, giving us an increasingly unlikeable protagonist yet somehow managing to invest us in his story fully. And to say I was wholly invested in this one is truly an understatement. I couldn’t stop turning the pages, relentlessly pushed onward by my desire to know what happens next in this tale of murder and mayhem that could only have been born of the pen of author Lucy Taylor. It’s a trademark of every story she writes. She imbues her narrative with pitch perfect pacing, generating a sort of frenetic synergy between the reader and the written word that drives them forward with the need to discover the outcome of the viciously dark and lovely tales she pens with such remarkable alacrity.
To say I have a huge author crush on Lucy Taylor would be putting it mildly. Every time I see a new story from her I practically squee with delight, knowing I’m in for something special with each new entry in her exceptional body of work. And I think you’ll feel exactly the same about her after reading Spree and Other Stories. If you haven’t read this brilliantly talented author’s work yet, you should fix that ASAP. Start here with this amazing collection from Independent Legions Publishing.