The first thing we can tell about Sheila Johnson, before we even open this book, is that she has no fear of jinxing herself with a title like The Book of Horrible Stories. For a change, I was delighted to find that the work did not live up to the title.
Within are five (six, if you count the preface, which I do) short stories that explore the art of storytelling, the source of inspiration and how the tropes of horror are often metaphors for things even more horrifying. Beautiful and surreal, but never so vague that they lose the reader. “The Garden Witch and the Boy” sets the tone with a tale of childhood guilt and nightmares. (And when are guilt and nightmares more intense than in childhood?) “The Tree in the Field” starts with a quirky, surreal premise and takes it further than expected. “An Interlude” is Johnson’s answer to that eternal question asked of writers: “Where do you get your ideas?” (It follows up with the question no one asks: “What happens if you ignore those ideas?”) “Mrs. Ambrose and the Conversational Shimmer” is my favorite of the bunch, a ghost story of sorts and a zombie story of sorts, that delves into themes more disturbing than gruesome. The collection is capped by the story that gave the collection its name: “The Book of Horrible Stories,” a love letter to the horror genre itself and to every child who discovers it.
The collection is beautifully illustrated by Wesley Wong and available for $12.00 on Sheila Johnson’s web site. If money’s tight, you can get the Kindle version for a measly 99 cents. This one goes on the shelf between Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link (and not just because that’s where it happens to fall in the alphabet).
Seriously. Ninety-nine cents. Go. Buy.