What One Wouldn’t Do: Edited By Scott J. Moses
Reviewed By Ben Walker
Grief is one of the most infuriating emotions, arriving when it likes, whether triggered by something rational or not, haunting you in its own bewildering way, leaving you powerless, even empty. Sometimes it’s water off a duck’s back, other times it’s oil. And for some, it can lead to unthinkable, irreversible decisions.
Thank goodness for fiction then, which has the power to help you process this kind of mental devastation. In Scott J Moses’ anthology, you’re asked the question “what might you do to deal with grief?” across each of its offerings, giving you a wide range of viewpoints. Having used horror as an escape from (and a way of dealing with) grief myself, the concept is definitely intriguing, as well as intimidatingly creepy.
This is a book which sets out its stall early on, thanks to the thoughtful introduction by Laurel Hightower. Things are going to get heavy, basically, and you have to be prepared for that in order to get the most out of the 29 takes on grief-based horror here. There are no specific trigger warnings, but as grief is explored in all its forms, you can expect to be troubled in one way or another if you’ve ever had to grieve anyone, anything, or even for yourself.
And the book pulls no punches right from the start. The first three pages of the opening story deliver eerie imagery, the promise of secrets to be revealed and lurching terror at a breathless pace. The narrative claws at your gut just as much as real grief does, and look, I already said this was a book where things get heavy, right? There are sparks of hope in that fantastically effective opener from J.A.W. McCarthy, but I had to step away and take a break afterwards, for fear of burning myself out on the book too soon.
Whether you take your time with this anthology or not, it pulls you in with such devastating effect that, at the very least, you’ll need time after each read to just…process. Savour the mastery on display from the various contributors. Let yourself recover before you wander forward into the next piece. I’d name my favourites, but there were only a couple I didn’t enjoy, so to list the ones I thought were outstanding would mean just writing out 95% of the table of contents.
In another way, to say “favourites” in relation to these stories seems like a misnomer, as many of them ruined me emotionally. I was a nervous wreck by the end, having been heartbroken and horrified on repeat. The highs and lows of longing and loss, desire and disaster, all of it bleeds into your brain as much as those of the characters. There’s deep, gut-twisting terror, quiet unease, existential dread and good old-fashioned gloopy body horror to claw at your nerves, not to mention painfully real moments of tragedy. Alongside this, you get ghosts, imaginary friends, necromancy, time travel, mediums, ancient myths, witches, demons, criminals…it’s a diverse shopping list of ideas all given exactly the right amount of space to breathe. It’s absolutely stunning in terms of ambition and execution. Hats off to George C. Cotronis’ fantastic cover art too, which is chilling in its own right.
The only criticism I have is that, in what seems to be a re-emerging trend amongst anthologies I’ve read recently, the author notes and bios appear directly after each piece. I prefer them separated at the end of the book; an optional extra in case you want to delve further into the writers’ inspirations and motivations. So while their inclusion is welcome, their placement was a bit…out of place.
Not that this is a reason to deny yourself a copy of this brilliant book though. Buy a copy now. Hell, buy two just in case you lose one on the bus or something. This is a book that should take pride of place on any horror fan’s shelf, and one I can see myself revisiting time & time again…whenever I think I can take it, that is.
What One Wouldn’t Do
What One Wouldn’t Do for…what?
Power? Safety? Love? Revenge?
Here’s to the lengths one might go to for everything.
With dark fiction from J.A.W. McCarthy, Avra Margariti, Marisca Pichette, Stephanie Ellis, Christina Wilder, Donna Lynch, Katie Young, Scott J. Moses, Angela Sylvaine, tom reed, Cheri Kamei, Shane Douglas Keene, J.V. Gachs, Tim McGregor, Emma E. Murray, Nick Younker, Jennifer Crow, Joanna Koch, Lex Vranick, Laurel Hightower, Eric Raglin, Eric LaRocca, Daniel Barnett, Bob Johnson, Simone le Roux, Hailey Piper, Bryson Richard, Jena Brown, and Christi Nogle.
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on Twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.