Alan Baxter is a relatively new author for me, but I’ve been impressed with everything I’ve read so far. His newest short story collection, The Gulp, is most certainly my favorite book to date. With five novellas all woven together within a common setting, this collection delighted as much as it intrigued me.
In the rural Australian coastal town of Gulpepper, or what the locals refer to as The Gulp, things are more than a little bizarre. The townsfolk expect the peculiar, but outsiders better watch their backs because things get dark real fast. The Gulp will devour you whole if you stay a second too long. This is the setting for the five novellas, all with very unique stories and some with crossover characters. As a whole, the stories in this collection work perfectly, but even so, each one can be read as a standalone.
We start with an excellent introduction to the mysterious town, which is read from an outsider’s perspective looking in. In this first novella, Out on a Rim, two truck drivers get stranded and one decides to wander into town despite the warnings of his companion. It sounds simple enough to just go grab some food for the overnight stay, but nothing is simple in The Gulp.
The next novella, Mother in Bloom, is my number one standout. It’s a family drama about two teenagers, Zack and Maddy, who decide to conceal their mother’s death. This superbly written novella crept up on me in the best possible way. There is more than meets the eye within this complicated family, including an excellent bonus of body horror.
The Band Plays On is an exquisitely written story about four travelers who follow a band called Blind Eye Moon to The Gulp to see them play. They stay for the extended after-party, but end up trapped in a nightmarish situation. I really enjoyed this hypnotic, vampiric, and propulsive story.
In 48 to Go, we follow Dace, who while trying to show off, was inadvertently robbed of his boss’s contraband. His boss gives him 48 hours to retrieve the cash value of his drugs or he can kiss his ass goodbye. The lengths that Dace goes to will keep you on your toes with plenty of action and a few laughs.
Rock Fisher is the fifth and final novella, and the perfect ending to this collection. In this Lovecraftian tale we follow Troy, who wants nothing more than to have a family. However, by accident, he finds an odd replacement to fill the void: a mysterious egg from the ocean. This oddity draws Troy in with a ravenous appetite.
The Gulp is an outstanding short fiction book that starts and ends in the most brilliant way. Baxter does a stellar job weaving in different aspects of Gulpepper to make a cohesive, creepy collection. And if that isn’t enough he had the forethought to leave the trapdoor wide open for more! I highly recommend you read The Gulp in it’s entirety and chronologically, but if you prefer to dabble with a story here and there, then dabble away.
Thank you so much to the Night Worms for my review copy.