I knew I was getting into some gory business when I picked up Books of Blood
. The opening quote says it all: "Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red." What I didn't know was that Clive Barker would blow me away with his talent, creativity, and stunning imagination. Maybe I should have suspected the depth of impact he would have on me when I read this reflective statement from Barker in the introduction to the Collector's Edition released 14 years later:
"I look at these pieces and I don't think the man who wrote them is alive in me anymore.... We are all our own graveyards I believe; we squat amongst the tombs of the people we were. If we're healthy, every day is a celebration, a Day of the Dead, in which we give thanks for the lives that we lived; and if we are neurotic we brood and mourn and wish that the past was still present. Reading these stories over, I feel a little of both. Some of the simple energies that made these words flow through my pen--that made the phrases felicitous and the ideas sing--have gone. I lost their maker a long time ago."
God that's good! I wish I'd written something like it, even if just within the confines of a personal journal.
As with all collections, the short stories included are of varying quality. But here's the thing. Even the weakest story of the batch - "Sex, Death and Starshine", in my humble opinion - is terrific. Barker offers almost disconcerting diversity from story to story, moving from the blood-filled, nausea-inducing tunnels of "The Midnight Meat Train", to the funny The Screwtape Letters-like world of "The Yattering and Jack", and then to the horribly disturbing "Pig Blood Blues". And the most amazing part to me? Books of Blood
is Barker's first published work! Amazing.
Really, I would have been well satisfied with the collection if the end had come following "Sex, Death and Starshine". Then Barker unleashed "In the Hills, the Cities" on me. Next to Robert Dunbar's "Mal de Mer" from his collection Martyrs & Monsters, "In the Hills, the Cities" ranks among my favorite short stories read to-date. Written at the height of the Cold War, the story's exploration of individuals acting within collectives could not have been more relevant for the time. And man, it leaves it's mark today as well! Honestly, I'll never forget it. I'd give "In the Hills, the Cities" six-plus stars if I could.
All in all, a fantastic collection of stories, and an impressive debut by Clive Barker. I recommend Books of Blood