Review: Various States of Decay by Matt Hayward

Various States of Decay by Matt Hayward
Poltergeist Press (December 2019)
290 pages: $23.70 hardcover; $14.99 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

It comes as a surprise to me that Matt Hayward published his first book, Brain Dead Blues, just over two years ago in May of 2017. Since that release, he’s been nominated for Bram Stoker Awards, published two novels, and co-wrote two novels. Various States of Decay is his second short story collection. That’s an impressive two years worth of work!

It’s my recommendation that you could buy this collection and get a well rounded view of what to expect with Hayward’s storytelling.

A story like “More Will Follow” showcases Hayward’s knack for situational horror. A standout in the collection for its post-apocalyptic setting, built-in suspense and clever dialog.

Readers who enjoy creature-features can look forward to a few good ones here, especially the one that was previously featured in Clickers Forever: A Tribute to J. F. Gonzalez. Other favorite creature-features were “Rodent in the Red Room” and “Things Found in Couches.” 

My favorite brand of horror is the kind that pulls hard on the old heartstrings. Matt Hayward intentionally goes after his audience’s feelings with several stories that land punches. “Mutt,” “Father’s Day,” and “I’d Rather Go Blind” were some of my favorite emotional horror stories.

It’s tough to pull out a single story as the brightest in a collection of twenty stories, but “In the Pines” was the most memorable for me. Maybe it’s because it’s Christmas time and I love Holiday Horror, but I think it’s also a good showcase of Matt’s ability to write character-driven stories and develop fleshed-out characters the reader can really connect with in a short amount of time. 

If you haven’t read a short story collection cover-to-cover, or you’re used to cherry picking a few gems out and shelving the rest, let me make a case for trying to sit down and make your way through all the stories in the order in which they appear. I have been doing that all this year and I have found it to be a worthwhile experience. I feel like in most cases, the order of the stories is intentional and can enhance the reading experience. 

In this case, this is one of the few collections where I was able to read all the stories and didn’t skip or skim a single one. That’s really saying something. It’s my opinion that if an author can pull off exceptional short stories and get something meaningful across to readers in just a few pages, it’s likely that they are a talented writer and one can safely invest time and money in longer works of fiction. I will definitely be picking up one of Hayward’s novels. 

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