What One Wouldn’t Do. Scott J. Moses, editor. 2021.
Rating: 5 Stars
I purchased What One Wouldn’t Do with a few gleeful taps of my finger on an afternoon in late September. The anthology’s editor, Scott J. Moses, had just tweeted that the book was available ahead of schedule, and wouldn’t we like to buy it sooner rather than later? I clicked on the Amazon link without hesitation. The cover art alone provided an enticing reason to purchase the anthology of short fiction and poetry, but I had also been following Moses’ updates on twitter for a number of months. I knew that the horror anthology could only bring me terrifying delight—and I was not mistaken.
Labeled as an anthology of “grief horror,” What One Wouldn’t Do is a beautifully designed volume built from the eloquent nightmares of twenty-nine contributors. Six of the twenty-nine entries are poems, while the rest are short fiction. The nightmares last for an impressive 319 pages before ending with a note from the editor, and in those 319 pages the reader becomes darkly, intimately acquainted with the many horrors that relate, in some way, to grief.
There are stories about cold cases that never die, about the remorse that drives us to the dark corners of the woods. We are shown the power of raising the dead and the cost of hunting the living. We see that ghosts are sometimes as sad as the houses they haunt, that artistic genius can be measured in blood, that some of our wishes are best left unspoken. In all of these tales we chase the specters of Grief and Loss. What would you do in a state of grief? What wouldn’t you do?
The Book as Object
One of the things that immediately struck me about What One Wouldn’t Do is how beautiful the book is as an object. Thanks to Twitter, I had known for some time that the cover art was exquisite: a gloomy house ablaze in the woods, with an unnamed specter hovering uncannily overhead. While the chilling artwork doesn’t seem to be based on any particular scene from the anthology, I think the specter on the cover represents the theme of Grief that pervades this anthology. Like the shrouded figure, our grief is not always easy to define. It is amorphous, dark, and nondescript, and yet our grief haunts us all the same. We cannot always see its face, but in our worst moments, we know Grief is near at hand, hovering just out of sight.
When I finally held the book in my hands, I could see that the beauty of this anthology is more than just its cover. True, the exterior design is exquisite from all angles, but it is also a pleasant object to hold in your hands. The trim size of the book (5 in. x 8 in.) feels perfectly weighted and balanced by its 319 pages. The matte texture of the cover feels soft and comfortable, and the interior pages have the quality feel and look of a professional publication.
The Stories Themselves
I absolutely loved my experience reading the stories in this anthology. Not every story resonated with me, but an impressive number of them did, and quite regularly. And throughout my reading experience, I observed that the quality of writing and editing were both consistently high.
One of the little details I enjoyed most about this anthology was the inclusion of a personal statement by the author at the end of each entry. I’m not talking about the traditional 100-word author bios, although those were present as well. These post-story blurbs were different: they offered a paragraph’s worth of insight from the author about why they wrote their story, and why it mattered to them. Even for the stories that didn’t resonate with me, these author-blurbs were pure gold every time.
Alright, enough beating around the bush, let’s talk favorites. Of the twenty-nine works that comprise this anthology, I have challenged myself to list only my favorite four stories and one poem. I want to reiterate that many of the entries in this anthology resonated with me. But these are my favorites, for what they’re worth.
“Traditional Women” by Donna Lynch Truth be told, I’m not much of a poet, but this one really jived with me. The vibe is witchy and dark and filled with spirit. The author’s note explains that the poem responds to the way women have historically been demonized in fiction—and embraces that demonization as literal. I don’t have much else to add except that I really, really liked “Traditional Women,” so I guess you’ll just have to go read it for yourself. You can thank me later.
1. “Holding” by Simone le Roux This dark short wrestles with the idea of belonging, of Home with a capital “H”: not just the place where you lay your head, but the place where you feel safe, secure, empowered, vulnerable. If you had moved around for your entire life, what would you do to purchase that sort of permanence? What lengths would you go to, and what lines would you be willing to cross? As someone who has never owned the roof over his head—but desperately wants to—this story hit me hard in ways I wasn’t expecting. If you’re a chronic renter like me, I think you will find this story haunting and heart-wrenching, and well worth your time.
2. “All the Misery that Waits for Us at the End of the Day” by Eric LaRocca This beautifully-written story deals with two lovers who are trying to exist in a world that defines them as monsters. Only they actually are monsters—werewolves, in fact. Through careful planning, they protect the world from their insatiable metamorphosis every single night—until their careful planning betrays them. This story singlehandedly convinced me to buy Eric LaRocca’s novella Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke. I never pictured myself as the target audience for queer horror, but I’ll be damned. Wonders never cease.
3. “Monsters Calling Home” by Cheri Kamei This story is a terrific blend of cosmic/Lovecraftian horror and Pacific Island mythology. When the Old Gods rise as Beasts from the sea, they demand sacrifice from those who live in their ocean, and that sacrifice must be paid in full. For those who survive such a sacrifice, their story becomes legend. But not everyone survives. The Beasts are cruel, and so, so hungry …
4. “Silver Dollar Eyes” by Eric Raglin You think you know what a haunted house is, but unless you’ve read this story, your understanding is incomplete. Eric Raglin takes the well-worn concept of a haunted house and flips it on its head, transforming the trope into a brand new experience. Part spiritual-drama and part anti-capitalist criticism, “Silver Dollar Eyes” asks us to question who the ghosts are that haunt our homes, and which is more tormented: the dead, or the living?
And Others …
While I have done my best to list my favorites, the truth is that there were many works in this anthology that spoke to me, whispering darkly from the shadows. That’s what I’ve enjoyed so much about this collection: the stories linger long after I’ve set the book down, settling into my mind like the petrichor after a good rain.
I’m running out of ways to say this. What One Wouldn’t Do is definitely worth your time. It is a well-written and well-crafted collection of some excellent horror stories and poetry, and if you’re into that sort of thing, you will not be disappointed in this purchase.