"Black Candies: Gross and Unlikeable" Book Review
Written by Matt E. Lewis
Published by So Say We All Press
Edited by Natanya Ann Pulley and Julia Dixon Evans
2016, 188 pages, Fiction
Released on November 25th, 2016
Horror has a problem, and that problem is stagnation. Whether you’d like to admit it or not, the best thing for creativity is a diversity of viewpoints. Original, interesting stories happen when readers are challenged, not appeased. But one look at the average horror anthology would tell you different – often the table of contents is filled with line after line of male names, with the occasional female writer or two deemed to be able to “stand with the boys”. To find a horror anthology written and edited completely by female writers is a rare thing – often the only one that comes to mind is Skin of The Soul, edited by Lisa Tuttle, and that came out more than twenty-five years ago. But in our modern time, when the importance of every Woman’s voice in every aspect is more obvious than ever, there are some people who simply can’t wait around for publishers to decide whether a concept is profitable or popular. Thankfully for us, there are people like Natanya Ann Pulley and Julia Dixon Evans, the editors of the newest edition of the horror anthology series Black Candies, who have given us a new, one-hundred percent female-authored collection entitled, Black Candies: Gross and Unlikeable.
When your collection starts with a story like “Second Skin” from Rachel Marston, which describes in detail a woman cutting open a dog and wearing its dermis for a costume, you know that nobody here willing be pulling any punches. There are loosely-organized sections like “Bedtime Stories Unearthed” which house contemporary takes on fables. They feature everything from good old-fashioned catharsis (“A Horse’s Crown”, by Lily Hoang), extreme body horror (“The Repulsive”, by Mary Crosbie), and dreamy takes on the frozen uncanny (“Blizzard”, by Rachel Lee Taylor). My favorite of the section is “The Final Girls” by Marie Johnson Parrish, featuring a unique twist on a familiar trope – an industrialized camp for scream queens. As if being brutally murdered wasn’t horrible enough, the girls are made to live with their fate and experience it over and over again: “You would recognize our stories. You’ve heard them before. You’d recognize the bones. A leather mask. A stranger in the dark. A hook, swinging from a door handle.”
Some of the stories play on tactile senses, like Danielle Renino’s “I’m Better Now” which juxtaposes the sensations of food with the anxiety accompanied by self-mutilation. But behind even the most extreme stories are metaphors for lives lived as women. “Sweet” by Rachel Busnardo features a woman viscerally turning into candy, only to be literally consumed by the men who are supposed to help her. In Jennifer Manalili’s “Hunger”, the tables are turned – a girl mercilessly teased for being fat takes an opportunity to feast on her bully at a leisurely pace. The protagonist of “There’s Something Under the Bed” by Bonnie Alexander experiences a dissonance with her real-life lover, only watching as an outside presence slowly invades her intimate space, until she wakes up one day next to a stranger - not the woman she knew, but something else frighteningly familiar.
Black Candies: Gross and Unlikeable allows for a great diversity of the styles of stories, as well. It’s unlikely that someone who loves the atmospheric anxiety of stories like “Murmuration: A Confusion” (Colleen Burner) or “She’ll Only Come Out at Night” (Jeanette Sanchez-Izenman) is looking for the ordinary jump-scare tales. But for those familiar with the horror genre, there are stories like “Periods” (Florance Ann Marlowe) and “Good Country People are Hard to Find” (Jessica Lanay) which are truly original takes on recognizable ideas. But the anthology does not shy away from the completely alien – the reader can only guess as to the kind of id that creates stories like “Notes on Wolves and Ruin, III” (Christine Hamm) and “The Female of the Species” (Hanna Tawater) which take dives into a place that is both nihilistic and cathartic. They seem to be whole-hearted identifications with something beyond what we understand.
This collection is exactly what the world needs right now. It is unapologetic in its subject matter, defiant in its grotesque detail, and bold and exciting in its caliber of writing. The best part is that many of these names are new, hungry and vivid voices, some featured for the first time. This is not a “feminist” horror anthology – it is modern horror in all its experimental, skin-crawling, and unsettling majesty. Not to mention the artwork, which like the writing, is extremely varied in its styles, but all embodying the theme of the book to a T. The fact that a gem of this quality is released from the likes of a small press (So Say We All Press) is unheard of, and all the more reason for you to pick up a copy for yourself. Since Black Candies is a continuing series, it will be interesting to see what they follow up this volume with, although it will be hard to top this Gross and Unlikeable anthology.