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Richo Reviews: Split Scream Volume 3 by Patrick Barb and J.A.W. McCarthy (Dread Stone Press, 2023)

Split Scream Volume 3 is here and Dread Stone are going from strength to strength with these double-feature, bite-size horror tales. This time, we have Patrick Barb's So Quiet, So White, and Imago Expulsio (The Red Animal of Our Blood) by J.A.W. McCarthy.

In Barb's story, following family relations in the aftermath of a terrible event, he truly puts the lie to the old saw that good prose should be unnoticeable. His writing is thick, writhing in the reader's hands. On occasion it can trip over itself, choke on itself, but at its best it is reminiscent of Laird Barron, stylised and punchy and surly. Some writing flows, but this oozes, slick and ominous. Who wants a pane of glass when you can have this glorious dark vista? Atmosphere and tone are Barb's weapons of choice, but he still manages to work in a vicious twist - more analogous to a twist of a knife in the gut than a twist in the tale.

McCarthy's piece is a darkly romantic story of passion, trauma, and the terrifying feeling of knowing another person, and letting them know you. It is rich, sickeningly vivid, and raw emotion is always at the surface - be it the love forged between our protagonist and the fellow painter she encounters, or their fear and despair in the face of the impossible figure that haunts them, and the desperate escape they plot. All these layers of emotion, of imagery, of elegantly and grotesquely crafted sentences, build up, like the layers of paint on the picture at the heart of the story, into something powerful, haunting, surging.

The act of creation, the artistic process, is key to both of these tales, in different - but equally harrowing - ways. That feels important right now, in this time of computer-generated slop. Both of these pieces, in their characters and in their own existence, show the power of human creation, of art with human feeling and human fears behind it. It's refreshing to see something - two somethings - so raw, heartfelt, and well-crafted.


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