I love Clive Barker. Anyone who frequents this review blog will know that as I’ve reviewed both Books of Blood vol. 1 and Coldheart Canyon. Today’s review is not from Barker himself, but from a short story collection featuring stories based on his classic horror novella The Hellbound Heart, and although Barker did not write any of the stories, it is still a treat to read.
In short, Hellbound Hearts is an anthology that is based on the critically acclaimed novella The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker. It’s a collection of twenty-one stories, all from authors of different walks of fiction, which expand and explore the merciless realm of the demonic Cenobites, of the puzzles that call them forth, and the types of people that would dare summon them.
There were quite a few that caught my attention and held it without pause until I had finished it, but the one that sticks out most prominently after having read all of them, is Every Wrong Turn by Tim Lebbon.
Tim Lebbon is a veteran dark fantasy and horror writer. His short story Reconstructing Amy won the Bram Stoker Award for Short Fiction in 2001, and his novel Dusk won the August Derleth Award in 2007. He’s had a few things appear on the New York Times bestseller list and won a Scribe Award in 2008. All in all, the man knows his way about short story, horror fiction, and the mythos that Barker created with The Hellbound Heart was perfect or Lebbon to work and expand in his own way.
Every Wrong Turn is a story about a man–who remains unnamed–exploring a labyrinth that shows him all the sins he has committed through his lifetime. He sees himself beating and raping his wife Michelle, killing a so-called friend that he thought was a charlatan, abandoning his daughter Jenny, and more. While we see little about the above mentioned characters, we get a good, long look at the unnamed main character. He’s a fiend: rape, murder, child abuse, anger, violence–the list is long. We see his past transgressions and loath him for it. But so does her. He’s remorseful of his actions and becomes more panicked and desperate as he realizes that even though he’s been living with these memories, it’s a horrifying experience to smell and hear them again. He wants to–needs to–be punished for them so that he might have some sort of peace in his life. It’s an interesting angle to work from having your main character seeking redemption for his actions but not have the audience feel sorry for him. Trust me, the guy is a monster and no matter how badly he wants forgiveness, the author sees that he doesn’t get it, from us or himself.
The location of the piece takes place entirely within some sort of ethereal labyrinth, created long ago by a man who then became lost in his creation. The labyrinth holds the pasts of everyone who enters, and as you move further into it, your sins are shown to you: the worse they become the further in your go. The labyrinth is a very interesting place for this story to take place. Is it an alternate dimension? A delusion of a crazy mind? Perhaps a glimpse into the future, or your life flashing before your eyes before you die. It’s never said exactly what it is and it’s up to the reader to decide what they want to believe.
The themes of Every Wrong Turn, like the story it’s based on, involve pain and pleasure interweaving into something greater. The labyrinth is a supposed gateway to hell but scores of people have still tried to make their way through it in search of something they can’t find on Earth. There’s also a theme of memories as the unnamed man has to confront his past, each memory becoming worse and worse as he gets further into the labyrinth. He’s searching for the centre of the maze because he believes it will bring him some kind of peace from his memories, but the story shows us that to leave bad feelings behind, we must first face them head on: whether we like it or not.
My final thoughts on Every Wrong Turn are that Lebbon created one hell of a short story. Strangely, it was not my favourite one within the collection, but it is the one that is staying with me the most. There was just something about the way the unnamed main character is forced to explore his dark memories that… well, disturbed me. There was no puzzle box, no classic Cenobites to speak of, but what the character experienced terrified me more than Cenobites ever have! And I think that because I have no idea why that’s the case–why these memories that someone else and not myself is reliving are capable of disturbing me so much more than demons from a torture dimension… it’s just fascinating. It adds a whole new layer to Barker’s mythos and left me feeling unsettled and anxious, and–in the end–isn’t that what good horror fiction is all about?