If you’ve been following my book-related posts and reviews, you might’ve noticed that short story collections and anthologies have been taking up more space on my shelves lately. I love a good novel, but I feel there’s something special about a collection of short fiction. It showcases not only what an author can do with fewer words, but also gives the reader a taste of the author’s range.
Matt Hayward is gifted with a vast imagination and a natural talent for storytelling. VARIOUS STATES OF DECAY is a brilliant display of these gifts. The book begins with an excellent foreword by Kelli Owen, and also includes an introduction by the author. Both of these pieces set a perfect scene for the stories to follow.
I loved the variety of the stories in this collection, and from the moment I started reading, I found it difficult to set down. I carried this book around for several days, just waiting for any opportunity to sneak in a story when I could find a few moments to read.
There are definitely some standouts in this collection, but before I get to those I’ll tell you that I truly enjoyed every single story in the bunch. These stories all share memorable characters, unique ideas, and of course, some top-notch dialogue. Once you read all of them, you’ll likely find that you’ve cycled through many different emotions. There are great descriptions that allowed for strong imagery, especially with regards to the moments of shock and horror. Each of these tales played out like little movies in my mind.
I could easily select a “Top 10” from this collection, but I will stick with my tradition of a “Top 5”, and provide some insight on each. Before I divulge that list, I’d like to mention that I only selected stories that were new to me. There are a couple previously released stories (such as DARK STAGE) that I read and loved, but I’ve discussed them in a previous review (or have plans to in the future).
My “Top 5” stories in this collection are:
-MORE WILL FOLLOW: a sinister story with a great twist. I loved the feeling of dread created by the setting and uncertainty, and I was left a bit wide-eyed and surprised (in a good way) by the end.
-THINGS FOUND IN COUCHES: I found myself chuckling out loud at much of the dialogue in these stories, and this one was no exception. This is just a fun, wild ride of a story. It’s a Lovecraftian-style tale that I can only refer to as “creeptastic”, and it’ll make you think twice about digging into your couch cushions anytime soon.
-KNOCK KNOCK: I thought this was very unsettling, and that’s a feeling that I love in a story. I can’t say much for fear of giving away too many details, but the “businessman” character gave me the creeps, and for some reason had me conjuring up images of the preacher from Poltergeist II (minus the singing). A great story with a stellar ending as well.
-MUTT: this one is both horrific and heartbreaking, and you know how I love that combination. It’s full of dread and sorrows that come from the horrors of real life, yet still contains a supernatural element. I especially loved the relationship between Tommy and his mom. This is just a beautifully written story.
-FATHER’S DAY: This story is perfectly placed at the end of the collection. I don’t want to give many details away. Let’s just say that this was the one I personally connected with the most. It brought me to tears, and then I sat in a book-hangover stupor for several moments after closing the book. If I have to select a favorite story overall, it’s this one.
There were several other standouts for me that I feel deserve an honorable mention, as they made it tough to narrow down my “Top 5”. Those are: I’D RATHER GO BLIND, THE CALL OF CHILDREN, COMES WITH THE RAIN, and THE CONDUCTOR.
This collection truly showcases Matt Hayward’s writing ability, but it’s even more than that. These stories are a great example of how horror is much more than what it seems on the surface— a genre more diverse and complex than what many would believe. This is a book that I’d recommend or gift to any reader interested in quality fiction, and I think that speaks volumes about the author’s talent.