By Heidi Simmons
by Amelia Gray
For many, a satisfying narrative must consist of set-up, confrontation, climax and resolution. Readers who seek to relate to characters and understand the nature of the dilemmas they face, may find Amelia Gray’s Gutshot (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 224 pages) not so straightforward or traditional.
These strange, twisted and demented short stories may make some readers uncomfortable. But if you desire an experience where your senses are provoked and your mind is poked, I guarantee these 37 tales will take you to places you have never been.
The book is divided into five sections. If there is a reason for the demarcations, it is not obvious. But these chapter-breaks offer relief and time for contemplation as you exit one crazy world and enter another.
“Monument” tells the story of a small community that gets together for a cleaning-bee at the local cemetery. Town’s people mow, mulch and weed the grass, polish headstones and trim the trees. When one man accidently chips a granite monument, everyone’s work comes to a stop. They gather for a look at the damage.
A relative of the engraved name, comes forward to inspect the porous granite, touching the exposed, raw stone. After he backs off, the man takes another swing at the marker, and another, and another until the whole community is hacking away at all the headstones and monuments in the cemetery.
“Fifty Ways To Eat Your Lover” is a list of methods to punish the man in your life. There are suggestions for eating him whether he brings home a puppy, says he’s in love with you or if he kissed another. Ideas include grating his knuckles, pulling out his hair for garnish and frying his foreskin.
The title story “Gutshot” is about a man who is shot in the gut. The shooter regrets his actions and the gutshot man drives himself to the doctor. The doctor has forgotten how to treat gunshot wounds and takes the gutshot man to his mother’s house.
The mother worries that “Woe” has descended upon them all. When the gutshot man yells, “Jesus Christ, I’m gutshot,” Jesus shows up. Jesus jokes with the man, and tells him he loves him and the shooter, then offers His help.
“Viscera” is about a paper-maker who works on an assembly line and is plagued with skin infections and illnesses. Everyday his skin, sweat or snot falls into the mill and becomes mixed with the paper. His DNA may possibly be on the very page of Gray’s book that tells this story!
“House Proud” is the story of an alcoholic mother who raised her daughter the best she could. Now obese and on oxygen, her grown daughter takes care of her mom, but often does not show up for a week.
The daughter convinces her mother to go on a trip with her to meet her lover. The two bond at a burned-out house in the middle of nowhere, where they literally taste the ashes of their lives.
There are many memorable stories in Gutshot: “House Heart” is about a couple who have a sex-slave who lives in their ductwork; “Thank You” tells of two friends who try to out-do each other with thank you notes; and “Date Night” turns into a feast of human depravity at a fine restaurant.
Bizarre as these stories are, they are incredibly compelling vignettes. Many of the tales are humorous, sly and involve bodily fluids.
What’s exactly going on in this collection is often elusive no matter how many times it’s reread. Like inkblots, these tales are open for psychological interpretation.
The common denominator in Gutshot is the desperation and intensity of the characters. It is what makes the narrative so visceral. After all, we are emotional creatures no matter where we reside – on this planet and in our heads.
As readers, we search text for meaning, insight and wisdom. Metaphor or allegory, fable or parable, Gutshot may be all these things — or none. Clearly, the author leaves that up to you.
Gray is fearless. In these short stories, she denies literary conventions and allows her characters the freedom to have unhindered, unhinged and uninhibited lives.
Author Gray is certainly not afraid to write from her gut.