Title – Stitched Lips
Editor – Ken MacGregor
Authors – Multiple
Genre – Horror
The book caught my attention with its catchy cover – a simple design that reveals a lot. I also liked how each of the contributing writers is mentioned on the front cover, unlike most anthologies that only feature the editor’s name. I hadn’t heard of any of these writers, except for Lee Murray whose works I’ve read and loved, and was looking forward to reading the book just for Lee.
Stitched Lips turned out to be a pleasant surprise; a phenomenal compilation in every way. As the tagline states, each of the stories are set around the theme of ‘silenced voices’, and I loved how every single writer interpreted the concept and integrated it with their stories.
The anthology starts with Wordeaters, R.L. Meza’s horrifying introductory piece about monsters who devour words. You’re safe as long as you’re silent; speak one word and meet a dreadful end. We then move on to Chorus of Whispers, a haunting tale by Sarah Hans (and one of my personal favorites from the collection), about female babies made to undergo procedures that remove their vocal chords. A band of women rebel by murdering men to “steal their voices”. Linda Nagle’s way with words is to be marvelled at, as she chooses a novel setting for Jack, inside the mind of a brain-dead patient, as past and present, reality and dreamland interweave. Avocation touches social and political issues through insurance corporations denying customers medical claims, as Lucy A. Snyder delves into the intricacies and sensitivities of employees seeking promotions and fat pay checks at the cost of patients dying due to a lack of means to fund treatment. Lee Murray addresses the immigrant diaspora in Nil By Mouth, as an elderly lady seeking help for her ailing granddaughter, meets with an accident herself and is unable to communicate in the language of her host country.
The Toll takes us into the animal kingdom, through ZZ Claybourne’s tale of a female animal threatened by a male hunter. Joanna Koch navigates child abuse and pedophilia through Aristotle’s Lantern, as a movie runs for the reader through the eyes of a victim. Green of Bad Visions was another one of my favorites, as Gabino Iglesias combines immigration and botany in a thrilling tale of a scientist’s discovery being hushed up. Hailey Piper takes us to college with Why We Keep Exploding, to a land where girls explode if they speak. Artown Correctional Center is a stellar journey through Patty Templeton’s imagination of a monster that consumes inmates at a facility. Tableau Vivant ends the collection by traipsing into the world of art with Michael Paul Gonzalez, as a sidelined artist goes on a murderous spree of all the people who wronged him.
Stitched Lips is a powerful ode to voices that go unheard and people who remain unseen. Each of the stories has a strong metaphorical angle delicately balanced with pure horror and gore. When you read between the lines, the topics covered here are not uncommon. How often has someone been shushed while speaking, told to be grateful about having a job and stay silent to retain it, ordered to follow the hierarchy without asking questions, had credit stolen for work done, threatened to be extradited or fired for standing up and speaking out, the helplessness of not knowing the language of the people around you, speaking but not being heard, heard but not understood, being stalked or harassed, facing casual racism and sexism dismissed as a joke, considered irrelevant, suggestions and ideas discarded, treated like a living statue? Whether an actress abused by male co-stars, or a comatose man desperate for attention, an immigrant unable to ask for help, to a student whose research professors claim as their own, voices are silenced and people can be dismissed in myriad ways. Stitched Lips offers an ear to all those marginalized voices.
The stories were peppered with beautiful lines:
~If she didn’t move. If she didn’t speak. If she could make it look like she wasn’t breathing. This might just save her life.
~Being in a dark hole was better than being in the wide open with a monster.
~He liked making lists. He liked checking lists. He liked to think he created good by recording goods.
~It was much better to feed the Thing than be fed to it.
~Asking questions cost time and never paid extra.
~Someone always noticed, but if people thought you don’t matter, what you notice didn’t matter either.
~An echo is better than silence.
~The prison librarian was busier than deathbed regret.
~Whispers aren’t enough. Something inside me wants to roar.
~Unspoken words can’t escape. I watch her swallow them, and they stew in her guts like trapped gas in a mine.
~She clutches her gut, as if the unspoken words now burn her belly.
~Rumors in the hall were so bad they couldn’t be entirely made up unless whoever started them had a Stephen King-level imagination.
~Journeying inward, where feeling is the opposite of being.
~A thing made to be left alone, a thing to be watched only in silence.
~You want to see me prick myself on the needle of my moral compass. See what colors I bleed.
~There’s no hope, says the team. There’s every hope, says the mother.
~Hurrying nowhere gradually, their take their time in a rush, making small-talk to help pass the sixty-second, hundred-mile trip.
~The reading had stopped. The books had stopped. No words, no voices, no existence.
~He reminds himself to remember that it doesn’t matter if he forgets.
~We recommend you cease and desist robbing women of their voices, or we will take yours.
A dark collection that sheds light on important issues, Stitched Lips is not to be missed. When it comes to anthologies, it can be an arduous task to source writers of equal credibility, so that each story stands out and carries the volume to new heights. I would recommend this book not just for reading but also for great writing. There’s brilliance in every single one of the stories, when you consider how diverse they are while still adhering to a theme. Kudos to the editor Ken MacGregor for this wonderful initiative. Definitely a must-read for horror fans, Stitched Lips deserves to be read by all readers for the topics it addresses and the stand it takes for the oppressed, powerless and disenfranchised.