Review: 'Suicide Stitch' by Sarah L. Johnson

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00040]Suicide Stitch by Sarah L. Johnson
EMP Publishing (March 2016)
188 pages; $12.00 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Josh Black

Suicide Stitch is the debut collection of Sarah L. Johnson, a writer whose work runs the gamut from horror to literary to science fiction to erotica. The stories here reflect that range of style and voice. They’re billed as “sexy, transgressive, and intelligent, comprised of eleven tales that explore the sinister side of love,” and that’s an apt description for the highlights of the bunch.

In “Thank You For Playing,” an unemployed World of Warcraft addict is drawn into a real-life game when he finds a yellow sticky note with his name on it. Subsequent notes send him all around his neighborhood, performing acts of kindness and realizing some wonderful things he’s missed that have been right in front of him.

“I Am Lost” is a wickedly creepy little tale that lives up to its name as a woman finds herself stranded on a dark stretch of road. Past and present mingle with reality and fantasy as a life-long shadow closes in, and the story ends with just the right level of ambiguity to linger long after the final page is turned.

“The First Wife” is a dark and deviant Christmas story that looks at the broken relationship between good old Saint Nick and his jilted lover, a certain infamous holiday demon.

A woman and a boy strike up an unlikely friendship in “Five-Day Forecast.” There are things in his past he struggles to remember and things in hers she does her best to forget. Somewhere in between is a space where they could find solid ground or fall further into darkness.

By turns irreverent, erotic, and heart-rending (both figuratively and literally), “Heart Beating Still” is the story of Gideon, the last of the offspring of Satan and Lilith. Practically immortal, the tormented Gideon struggles to avoid the temptation of what he’s been driven to crave most, the one thing that can kill him: “The desecration and ingestion of virgin flesh and blood.” A bound young man is left on his doorstep, leading to deep conversation, carnal bliss, and a suitably poetic denouement. There’s a lot going on in this story and it meshes remarkably well. One can only hope to someday have the pleasure of reading more stories about other periods in Gideon’s life.

“Why(Y)” is a flash fiction piece that offers a new spin on the living dead and memories that are undying.

In “Three Minutes,” a boy in foster care learns the truth about his past and is given a choice that will change his own world and the one that comes after.

“Little Sister, Little Brother” is a fractured fairy tale that turns “Hansel and Gretel” on its head, with a liberal dose of sexual vampirism thrown into the mix. The main character is a man who, tired of living his life for everyone else, decides to drop everything and follow his own path. His path just happens to lead him to an oddly empty apartment complex with a sordid history, run by a pair of starving siblings…

“A Ballad for Wheezy Barnes” is next. When a country singer runs afoul of some very bad people, a young man who’s loved her from afar for seven years offers his help, and himself. It turns out she’s not the woman he thought she was.

It’s not clear what until the final few pages, but something’s off-kilter in “Bridge.” A mournful tone runs through this carefully constructed story of a mother, a daughter, and a father who’s far away in a war-torn country. The story’s title has multiple meanings, and the bittersweet ending ties them all together.

“Suicide Stitch” is a story of the powerful bond between two sisters whose lives are stitched together through shared experience. A woman clears out the house of her recently departed sister, a hoarder who’d held off on suicide until completing the perfect dress. When a nearly perfect one turns up in all the detritus, the temptation to finish it is too much to resist.

There’s a lot of variety here, the writing invariably draws you right in, and the strongest of the stories will stick with you long after reading them. If you want a glimpse into the darkness of the everyday, with moments of beauty and horror along the way, Suicide Stitch is well worth picking up.

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