Deep Cuts: 19 Tales of Mayhem, Menace, and Misery
Edited by Angel Leigh McCoy, E.S. Magill, and Chris Marrs
Evil Jester Press
February, 2013; $14.95 PB
Reviewed by K. H. Vaughan
Deep Cuts is a celebration of the influence of female horror writers, released for Women in Horror Month, 2013. The title refers to “deep cuts” in music – those great tracks on an album that do not get commercial airtime or are overshadowed by the popular hits. In a clever move, the editors required each submission to come with a short recommendation for a story by a woman writer, a deep cut from the history of horror fiction. The result is an anthology that reflects the strength of the female voice in horror today, and reminds us that it has always been present. It was a smart choice, and one that elevates the anthology by giving historical context and providing intriguing suggestions for additional reading – an added value most anthologies don’t provide. The other smart editorial decision was to open the anthology to submissions by men and women. Despite honorable intentions, I am not sure how effectively we promote diversity in writing through exclusionary practices. If women horror writers are every bit as capable as the men they can hold their own in a fair competition just fine. And Deep Cuts is a wonderful demonstration that they can, and always have been able to. The inclusion of male authors also reminds us that it is not only female readers and writers that have been shaped by the great women of horror fiction. The anthology is a great celebration of Women in Horror Month in ways that a simple collection from women authors would not have been.
The stories within come from a diverse group of authors, including many award-winning writers whose work has appeared in top publications. And, by and large, these stories cut quite deep. These are stories filled with fear and pain. Character after character is filled with toxic rage, perverse obsession, or unrelenting need. Horrific sexual violence is frequently present or at least threatened. We see terrible crimes and their lingering aftermath. Relationships are irreparably torn and spirits crushed in a world with little justice or redemption. The monsters within are, at times, demonic or ghostly, and at others merely human. In some cases, it is not possible to say whether the events described are the result of the supernatural or delusion. The prose and narrative voice is generally strong across the board. There is, at most, one story that struck me as relatively undeveloped and unpolished, so that it stood out poorly against the rest of the material. A second, while well-written, seemed thematically inconsistent with the overall bleak worldview of the rest, introducing a discordant element of ultimate light into the universe despite the darkness of the events described. But, as a group, the stories are quite disturbing and compelling, and most mature horror fans should be able to find multiple pieces that they enjoy; more than enough to justify getting a copy. Evaluated as a horror anthology, Deep Cuts is a clear success, and I would not be surprised to see it get some attention at year’s end when award nominations begin to circulate.
As for the deep cuts themselves, the story recommendations reflect a nice mix of historic and contemporary writers, and the editors included an appendix containing the suggestions attached to many submissions that did not make the anthology itself, yielding sixty pieces for the reader’s consideration. The stories described are an intriguing archeology of horror written by women. Even a seasoned horror fan will likely discover something she or he has not read, and will at least be reminded of gems perhaps forgotten from years past. You could argue that a few of these are more chart-toppers than deep cuts (who has not read The Lottery?) but that is a quibble. As a celebration of the female horror writer, this effort has made a unique contribution and is a great achievement.