Firstly, an enormous THANK YOU to Apex Publications for giving me the ARC of this title and letting me have the privilege of reviewing what is a most outstanding short story collection from an author I think every speculative fiction fan should have on their radar.
Sometimes a thread pulled through the flesh is all that holds you together. Sometimes the blade of a knife or the point of a nail is the only way you know you’re real. When pain becomes art and a quarter is buried deep within in you, all you want is to be seen, to have value, to be loved. But love can be fragile, folded into an origami elephant while you disappear, carried on the musical notes that build a bridge, or woven into an illusion so real, so perfect that you can fool yourself for a little while. Paper crumples, bridges fall, and illusions come to an end. Then you must pick up the pieces, stitch yourself back together, and shed your fear, because that is when you find out what you are truly made of and lift your voice, that is when you Sing Me Your Scars.
In her first collection of short fiction, Damien Angelica Walters weaves her lyrical voice through suffering and sorrow, teasing out the truth and discovering hope.
It’s rare that a blurb truly does a book justice and this one definitely does, capturing the essence of this collection in as poetic a way as the stories themselves are written.
Sing Me Your Scars is a collection of speculative short stories – from two page flash fiction to longer, more substantial pieces. While every story is its own, they all share common themes.The one that stood out the most for me is that of abuse and the painful journey victims must endure in order to overcome the damage inflicted upon, to take ownership of their lives and regain lost agency. There were several stories dealing with abuse, but each was rendered in such a unique way that the recurring theme never got stale. Walters explores the various forms of suffering and how this affects different people through poetic prose and vivid imagery, at once alarming and exquisite. I will, however, say that this collection tends more toward the horror genre and is probably not for the squeamish, or for those who may be triggered by reading about the trauma associated with abuse.
One of the biggest problems I usually have when reading short story collections, is being irritated that the story I’m enjoying ends too soon. I often experience a sort of literary whiplash reading anthologies and collections because I feel catapulted from one story to the next without being able to truly connect to the characters or settings. I never experienced this in Sing Me Your Scars. While there were definitely many stories I would happily read as novels, the continuity of style provides seamless transitions between stories which focus more on character and imagery than setting and plot. That’s one of the reasons I loved this book so much. I felt immersed in the story world from cover to cover despite the constant change of characters, countries and even eras. I was also delighted to see the inclusion of LGBT+ characters in this collection.
There are two writers I hold in extremely high regard and am happy to call my favourites: Poppy Z Brite and Neil Gaiman. I have read and loved short story collections by both these authors and I would happily shelve Sing Me Your Scars right alongside Wormwood and Fragile Things. Like Brite, Walters brings beauty to the grotesque with devastatingly exquisite images of both the brutal and macabre. This is a skill I envy as an author and am definitely going to be rereading passages from Sing Me Your Scars as I have reread passages from Lost Souls and Wormwood. Like Gaiman, Walters weaves subtle magic through her stories, sometimes tantalizing with a mere mention of the bizarre while the story remains firmly rooted in the real. Other times, Walters creates a lush fantasy world in which the reader becomes quickly immersed despite the limited word count of these stories. I am in awe of this author’s ability to achieve so much in so few words.
Until I read this collection, my favourite short story was, of course, one by Gaiman (‘Cold Colors’ from Smoke & Mirrors), but Girl, with Coin by Walters absolutely blew me away and left me reeling for days (I still can’t stop thinking about this story!). Of all the brilliant, beautiful and powerful stories in this collection, Girl, with Coin had an immediate and lasting impact, and this story has just become a new favourite – I loved it even more than works by Brite! – tied with Cold Colors and ear-marked as a story to which I plan to return time and again.
If you enjoy your speculative fiction dark and introspective, exquisite and chilling, beautiful and bloody, then this is the collection for you. I cannot recommend it enough. 5/5 glorious ink splats for this amazing book!
If you’d like to find out more about the author, please head over to my blog to read an interview with Damien Angelica Walters about Sing Me Your Scars and her forthcoming novel, Paper Tigers.