In all my reading, I’ve encountered many a short story collection but never a novella collection. One just never hit my radar, and the concept seems rather new. Furthermore, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a collection of novellas from different authors all centered around one theme.
Wounds to Wishes feels different in both those respects. Each novella is the work of a different author, all fairly well-known in the indie horror scene with each story centering around grief. It’s a good pick for a theme. Horror is a genre that blends easily with others whether it be drama, tragedy, comedy, romance, or many, many more.
As a horror novella collection centered on grief, Wounds to Wishes is a mixed bag, much like any anthology of short stories. Two of the novellas are just okay while one shines like a wicker man lit ablaze and fueled by gallons of petrol. This folk horror blazing star is none other than John Boden’s Suet. What a delicious read it is!
What first caught my attention in this tale is the way grief is handled. In the previous two selections, The Strangest Twist Upon Her Lips and My Only Sunshine, the grief originates in a family structure. The dead and gone are a wife and a child. In Suet, however, the grief manages to retain a somehow personal role while commenting on a occupation: elderly care. Suet focuses on main character Corbin Worthy. Corbin works as a caretaker in a retirement home. As middle age comes knocking and the patients transform from strangers to the people he knew and loved as a child, the job turns from a way to pay the bills and do some good into a monster that threatens to suck away all the light and joy in Corbin’s life.
As Corbin himself puts it,
‘It’s hard enough to be a nurse or caregiver in an old folks’ home. All day lifting people with one arm because time has picked them to bones. Or introducing yourself every time you dole out meds because they can’t retain a memory for more than a few hours or a few minutes at a time. That shit is brutal anyway. But anymore, I’m spoon-feeding people who I knew back when I was at friends’ houses as a kid. Their parents.'”John Boden-Suet
This is more than just losing a family member. It’s the loss of the world your foundation rests upon. Worse, it’s that loss compounded by a capitalist society that would rather shut death away than confront it collectively. Society asks Corbin to shoulder a physical and emotional burden others refuse to take.
Boden’s genius rests in how he creates a supernatural, folksy horror foil to this real world problem. Eventually, the genre conventions come calling. Corbin’s great grandfather dies, and the man decides to spend a few days in the old man’s house to give away a few items. While there, he comes across Pap’s journals and discovers that something old rests in this valley. Something that asks its inhabitants for many, many gifts. It’s the thought that counts, after all.
While I can admit that folk horror is a particular weakness of mine, John Boden uses it for fantastic results. Suet fits the book’s theme well and creates something new from some very old tropes.
By contrast, the other two novellas lack that luster. Chad Lutzke’s The Strangest Twist Upon Her Lips could be a great story, just not for this book. It’s a lovely drama, and his writing captures the realities of grief, depression, drug abuse, and poverty. It is well written but to bill it as a horror novella seems to be a bit of stretch.
Robert Ford’s My Only Sunshine, on the other hand, had all the great makings of a good horror story. This story of a single mother grieving the murder of her daughter takes an uncomfortable turn with the inclusion of a character which seems closer to “the magical negro” than a fully formed character. For those unaware, Magical Negro defines a Black character, often with supernatural abilities, who only exists to help the white characters in a story. My Only Sunshine feels especially egregious as its Magical Negro is the only racialized character. This trope isn’t new in horror. Stephen King’s novels carry a plethora. Its inclusion in My Only Sunshine is not surprising but a bit disappointing.
As a whole, Wounds to Wishes showcases a full spectrum of quality. However, I will note that Suet is definitely worth a read. If you’re into folk horror, consider learning about the Kin. Don’t worry about giving a gift in return. It’s the thought that counts…
Lyana Rodriguez (she/they) is a queer Cuban-American writer living in Miami, Florida. Her greatest interests include monsters, animals, nature writing, and staring way too long at the birds in their garden. You can find more of Lyana’s writing in their intersectional horror blog, Dark Intersections.