Can You Stomach the Stories?

Clara Martin, age 16

I’m not scared of clowns or ghosts or sharks, but author Amelia Gray utterly terrifies me. Her 2015 short story collection “Gutshot” is provocative and unsettling. This hauntingly original collection pushes the boundaries of what a story can be, leaving readers unnerved along the way.

“Gutshot” is an apt name for the collection. It contains 38 densely packed short stories, each one stranger than the last. The stories gently coax the reader, only to pummel their mind with unnerving concepts and scenarios, and spit them back out, frazzled and tumbling into the next one. Thematically, they bring to mind Flannery O’Connor’s characteristic gothic stories.

Dissimilar to O’Connor’s, they truly are short stories. Some of the stories span only one or two pages and there’s an enthralling power to these shorter stories. Gray serves a strange scenario, lets the reader take a nibble, then pulls back the plate abruptly. There’s “Fifty Ways to Eat Your Lover” which embodies Gray’s flair for the macabre juxtaposed with the sentimental. One line reads, “When he takes you to meet his parents, smother him with a pillow and eat his middle finger.” Gray doesn’t apologize for violent sentences like these. Neither do her characters for their strange behaviors, and neither do her concepts. They simply exist. Gray challenges us to read her stories without recoiling.

However, at times the especially short stories left me unsatisfied. Their images were compelling, but they lacked the deeper exploration I craved. The concepts felt half-baked or abandoned. Most often, I enjoyed the longer stories where Gray’s strange concepts are given space to breathe and develop. In “House Heart,” a couple keeps a girl locked in the claustrophobic vents of their house. In “The Lives of Ghosts” a woman is haunted by the ghost of her dead mother who has taken residence in a pimple on her face. The lengths of these stories allow for more development of the narrator’s voice while still experimenting with other untraditional elements. Sometimes the stories talk to each other. In “Precious Katherine,” a sparrow speaks using lines from a previous story, giving both stories additional dimensions.

“Gutshot” is an intense collection of fearless tales. Each one containing a small festering chunk of this thing we call life. In reading “Gutshot,” one enters the peculiar mind of Amelia Gray and reflects on what can disturb, what can provoke, and what that says about ourselves. The collection gives us an excuse to explore the grotesque and dare to call it beautiful. To read one of Gray’s stories, you must have a tough stomach. Because you will be gutshot. Multiple times over.