One character in Just to See Hell watches a gull repeatedly plunge into water and come out empty-beaked. The image reinforces the sense of futility and hopelessness permeating this short story collection that merges the horrors of everyday life with supernatural horror. Author Chandler Morrison takes the symbol one step further, commenting that humans, prone toward laziness, would not have the gull’s perseverance.
Morrison’s protagonists run the gamut from disillusioned and suicidal to delusional and homicidal. Among the subjects readers will encounter are the torture of revered religious figures, theatrical suicide, and even infanticide.
Flowing throughout these stories is alcohol… alcohol blocking emotions, alcohol distorting thoughts, alcohol ruining relationships. Moreover, the volume is not going to get a thumbs-up from the local Catholic church book club – mixed in with the alcohol is the idea that the world is awful, and God is to blame. Too bad such a pessimistic perspective shadows an otherwise well-written and thought-provoking collection of stories. Some stories are more on the subtle side, while others elicit an “I can’t believe I’m reading this” response, which is always impressive.
Desperation and a desire to hurt themselves or others unite Morrison’s characters. An alcoholic man gets sent to space, finds “the answers,” and returns home to discover misery. A severely alcoholic woman’s addiction manifests a sometimes glamorous and sometimes hideous doppelganger. A psychologist who wants to wash off “the grime” unravels. A serial killer boy plunges his hands into a deer’s innards and unleashes a string of vulgarities.
From a genre standpoint, Just to See Hell straddles the line between splatterpunk and literary fiction. Rarely does the same collection cover an alcoholic’s struggle to accept his role in a problematic relationship and an individual rubbing a cheese grater on his face. Despite the extreme violence, Morrison’s mostly first-person narrators are deeply contemplative, judgmental, and conflicted. They’re hard to pin down, and that’s a good thing. Yes, many stories have outrageous premises and there’s a bit too much stream of consciousness, but Morrison knows how to write tersely and keep his stories moving.—Douglas J. Ogurek****