From the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of What Do Monsters Fear? and A Penny For Your Thoughts come twenty new tales of terror!
Including the Irish Short Story of the Year-nominated 'Intercepting Aisle Nine.'
From a white doomsday crawling with abominable beasts to the bizarre case of a marketing company advertising within people's dreams, these stories explore the extremes of Hayward's prose - contrasting the heartfelt with the deeply disturbing.
In Various Stages of Decay we are presented with 20 short stories by Matt Hayward. This collection contains many different stories that show that the author is not content to write about limited subjects or write in a specific style. I found each of these stories different from each other and all were very interesting and enjoyable. Most of the stories had elements of horror in them but some also had fantasy settings. Overall these stories show a writer who is confident in his abilities. These stories also show a writer who isn’t afraid to take chances Overall this is an excellent collection of stories that I highly recommend.
Shamefully, I’ve only read a very small portion of Matt Hayward’s output, but what little I have read has been more than enough to convince me that I need to buckle down and get to his back-list posthaste. The nice thing about a short story collection is that it can give you a number of lovely samples of an author’s style and works in pretty quick order, and if Various States of Decay proves anything, it’s that Hayward’s Bram Stoker nomination for his debut novel, What Do Monsters Fear, was hardly a fluke.
I must admit, though, that it took me a little bit (but not too long!) before I was able to click and groove to Hayward’s latest. Short stories can be a particularly tough art form simply because there isn’t always a whole lot of room to really develop certain themes and plot threads in satisfactory fashion. Usually, the bigger the concept, the less effective the short story. Hayward’s opener, “Intercepting Aisle Nine,” has one hell of a great idea at its core, but it feels both underdeveloped and a bit rushed, and I really wish it were longer simply so we could dive into the issues it explores and put more meat on its bones. It’s an OK short story, but it could have been a really incredible novella or novel. As it is, there’s a lot of necessary short cuts taken to get the plot from Point A to Point B, and the naturalness of the story suffers as a result.
Beyond that first story, though, I found a lot to enjoy in Various States of Decay, particularly “Alisha.” This is another short with a big concept, but its execution is far more successful and satisfactory than “Intercepting Aisle Nine,” which it shares certain concepts with. “More Will Follow” is an A+ post-apocalyptic survival story with a wildly effective reveal. “Comes With The Rain” was another easy favorite with its rapid-fire pacing and wonderfully illustrated ecological horrors, while “She Sells Seashells” delivered a really engaging story of a reporter covering the death of a swimmer that left me gasping for air. Hayward delivers an emotional powerhouse in “I’d Rather Go Blind,” a story of loss and survivor’s guilt that aims straight for the heart. “An Unusual Pet” shows off Hayward’s kinder, gentler, more sentimental side, looking to tug those heartstrings in some different ways. And then you get to “In The Pines,” a Christmas story that takes some deliriously wrong and mean turns toward a wonderfully fucked up ending, which just might be my favorite of the bunch.
Picking a favorite, it turns out, is actually pretty hard here. My Kindle notebook is littered with jottings as I went from one story to the next with brief, and in this case rather unhelpful reminders, of “This was awesome!” or “Easy favorite here!” or “This one’s another favorite!” But I have to admit, I like my horror mean and lean, so ultimately I think “In The Pines,” is, in fact, my big favorite here simply because of how mean it gets. Plus, it’s Christmas-time and I just so happened to be in the mood for this kind of story. “More Will Follow” is really, really, really close second, though.
What I most appreciated about this collection was Hayward’s organization. Despite Various States of Decay not being a themed collection, Hayward’s stories beat with a natural rhythm, moving between shared topics and ideas and riffs on themes over the course of the book. There’s a lovely ebb and flow to the concepts here, some of which recur at regular intervals, that range from dream-states to natural horror and creature features. Hayward’s a rocker, and I mean that literally - when he’s not writing, he making music, and the placement of his stories here speak to a mind that’s keen on arrangement, with certain story notes playing off one another and recurrent beats, such as the OneWave company that features prominently in several of these stories, keeping you hooked and bobbing along. The stories ultimately work together to create a larger, and stronger, composition with a bit of wicked heart underpinning it all.
And, of course, this book is just yet another reminder that I need to check out more of Hayward’s work…
If you’ve been following my book-related posts and reviews, you might’ve noticed that short story collections and anthologies have been taking up more space on my shelves lately. I love a good novel, but I feel there’s something special about a collection of short fiction. It showcases not only what an author can do with fewer words, but also gives the reader a taste of the author’s range.
Matt Hayward is gifted with a vast imagination and a natural talent for storytelling. VARIOUS STATES OF DECAY is a brilliant display of these gifts. The book begins with an excellent foreword by Kelli Owen, and also includes an introduction by the author. Both of these pieces set a perfect scene for the stories to follow.
I loved the variety of the stories in this collection, and from the moment I started reading, I found it difficult to set down. I carried this book around for several days, just waiting for any opportunity to sneak in a story when I could find a few moments to read.
There are definitely some standouts in this collection, but before I get to those I’ll tell you that I truly enjoyed every single story in the bunch. These stories all share memorable characters, unique ideas, and of course, some top-notch dialogue. Once you read all of them, you’ll likely find that you’ve cycled through many different emotions. There are great descriptions that allowed for strong imagery, especially with regards to the moments of shock and horror. Each of these tales played out like little movies in my mind.
I could easily select a “Top 10” from this collection, but I will stick with my tradition of a “Top 5”, and provide some insight on each. Before I divulge that list, I’d like to mention that I only selected stories that were new to me. There are a couple previously released stories (such as DARK STAGE) that I read and loved, but I’ve discussed them in a previous review (or have plans to in the future).
My “Top 5” stories in this collection are:
-MORE WILL FOLLOW: a sinister story with a great twist. I loved the feeling of dread created by the setting and uncertainty, and I was left a bit wide-eyed and surprised (in a good way) by the end.
-THINGS FOUND IN COUCHES: I found myself chuckling out loud at much of the dialogue in these stories, and this one was no exception. This is just a fun, wild ride of a story. It’s a Lovecraftian-style tale that I can only refer to as “creeptastic”, and it’ll make you think twice about digging into your couch cushions anytime soon.
-KNOCK KNOCK: I thought this was very unsettling, and that’s a feeling that I love in a story. I can’t say much for fear of giving away too many details, but the “businessman” character gave me the creeps, and for some reason had me conjuring up images of the preacher from Poltergeist II (minus the singing). A great story with a stellar ending as well.
-MUTT: this one is both horrific and heartbreaking, and you know how I love that combination. It’s full of dread and sorrows that come from the horrors of real life, yet still contains a supernatural element. I especially loved the relationship between Tommy and his mom. This is just a beautifully written story.
-FATHER’S DAY: This story is perfectly placed at the end of the collection. I don’t want to give many details away. Let’s just say that this was the one I personally connected with the most. It brought me to tears, and then I sat in a book-hangover stupor for several moments after closing the book. If I have to select a favorite story overall, it’s this one.
There were several other standouts for me that I feel deserve an honorable mention, as they made it tough to narrow down my “Top 5”. Those are: I’D RATHER GO BLIND, THE CALL OF CHILDREN, COMES WITH THE RAIN, and THE CONDUCTOR.
This collection truly showcases Matt Hayward’s writing ability, but it’s even more than that. These stories are a great example of how horror is much more than what it seems on the surface— a genre more diverse and complex than what many would believe. This is a book that I’d recommend or gift to any reader interested in quality fiction, and I think that speaks volumes about the author’s talent.
Excellent book! I’m usually not a big fan of short stories and prefer full length novels. However, Matt’s way of writing each story has a way of pulling you in every time and making you love short stories as much as novels. There are several in this book that made me sad to not be able to continue reading their specific story like Rodent in the Red Room, More Will Follow, Comes With The Rain and Knock, Knock. I love when an author writes in a way that you literally have no idea where the story is going to end up. That’s Various States of Decay in a nutshell, a MUST read!!
I can’t say enough how much enjoyed this book, terrifying, heartbreaking, sweet and with some creatures thrown in (a baby dinosaur anyone?) Something for everyone, there isn’t one story less then a 5 stars in here. The last story in the book just about killed me. This collection deserves every award that it can gather and you’d be remiss not putting this on the top of your TBR list. Other reviewers will do a story by story break down so search them out. What I can say is read this book immediately!
Mit Anthologien ist das immer so eine Sache … von gut bis mäßig ist oftmals alles dabei, ein Querschnitt des Könnens eines Autors, vergleichbar mit einem Scribble – ein bunter Strauß voller Überraschungen eben. Bei »Various States of Decay« fallen diese Überraschungen allerdings durchweg positiv aus, was bei 20 Geschichten (und ich habe jede einzelne davon genossen!) eine echte Glanzleistung darstellt.
Bereits mit »Brain Dead Blues« konnte mich der für den Bram Stoker Award nominierte Autor Matt Hayward begeistern (siehe Rezension), doch seine neue Anthologie hat mich regelrecht umgehauen. Wie schon geschrieben haben mir alle Storys gefallen, doch einige davon konnten mich nachhaltig beeindrucken: »Where The Wild Winds Blow«, »Alisha«, »More Will Follow«, »Happiness Inc.«, »Comes With The Rain«, »In The Pines«, »KNOCK KNOCK«, »The Conductor«, »MUTT« und »Father's Day«. (Sorry Matt, you want me to pick out my top five, but here is the deal – you get my top ten in no particular order.)
Was macht Haywards Geschichten so lebendig? Ich glaube, es liegt daran, dass er seine Ideen so authentisch verpackt. Er schafft Charaktere, mit denen man sich identifizieren kann und die einem trotz der Kürze der Geschichten ans Herz wachsen. Man fühlt sich mit ihnen verbunden – im Guten wie im Schlechten. Hayward ist ein geborener Erzähler, er greift eine Idee auf, schafft ein passendes Setting, zeichnet seine Figuren stilsicher sowie facettenreich und würzt das Ganze dann mit einem flüssigen Erzählstil, Atmosphäre und oft auch einer Prise Humor. Die Phantastik und der Horror kommen dabei nie zu kurz und doch sind sie nicht aufdringlich, lassen genug Raum für die eigene Fantasie. Außerdem gelingt ihm der Spagat zwischen Realität und Fiktion – will heißen, die Ansätze sind oft aus dem Leben gegriffen und ehe man sich versieht, taucht man mit den Figuren in das Fantastische ab. Seine Geschichten passieren einem, so wie Alice ganz unverhofft durch einen Kaninchenbau ins Wunderland gerät.
In der Beschreibung ist von »tales of terror« die Rede, doch der Autor zeigt eine erfrischende Vielfalt in dieser Anthologie. Ich persönlich finde seine in Ansätzen Coming-Of-Age angehauchten Geschichten besonders stark. Aber auch die Storys, die Themen wie Trauer und Verlust aufgreifen, hinterlassen einen bleibenden Eindruck sowie einen Kloß im Hals oder gar feuchte Augen. Er versteht sich einfach sehr gut darauf, Gefühle authentisch zu transportieren.
Matt Hayward ist für mich mittlerweile zu einem »Auto-Buy Author« avanciert. Ich möchte gern sämtliche seiner Werke für mich entdecken und bin schon sehr gespannt auf seine weitere Entwicklung.
Wer also keine Probleme mit dem Englischlesen hat, atmosphärischen Horror und lebendige Phantastik bevorzugt, der sollte definitiv einen Blick auf Haywards Werke riskieren.
Various States of Decay was something else. I’ve already got nothing but amazing things to say about Hayward’s work and this is no different. It’s the kind of material that sits in the back of your mind to make you rethink everyday things, like cleaning between your couch cushions or catching your everyday transportation. I couldn’t recommend him anymore than I already do but I will say this, go out and get this book NOW, you won’t regret it. Even if you haven’t read him before, I don’t think there’s a better way to get a feel of an author’s work than through their short stories. Warning, he has a way of making you cry before you’ve realized you’ve got tears rolling down your cheeks.
This collection contains twenty horror short stories by Matt Hayward, co-author of the phenomenal novel A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS, and a great introduction from Kelli Owen, which coins the phrase “conveyer belt story. “
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
My favorites in the collection are as follows: In “Intercepting Aisle Nine,” Ronald is compelled to make a late night convenience store run and discovers something more concerning than the odd assembly of shoppers. “Ronald didn’t want to talk to anyone at three in the morning. God knows who they might be. Serial killers, junkies, weirdos, what other kind of person would be up shopping at this hour? Me, Ronald thought. I am.”
The protagonist in “Happiness Inc.” discovers strange little anomalies in his world, which add up to a disturbing new normal.
A commuter has a frightening encounter with “The Conductor” on her morning train ride to work. This one felt like a cool new take on Clive Barker’s “Midnight Meat Train.”
These three stories (“Intercepting Aisle Nine,” “Happiness Inc.,” and “The Conductors”) have a common link, which is a wicked cool Easter egg.
“Things Found In Couches” could be described as an ode to the horrificness of the word “moist.” A couple of resale furniture store employees discover the unexpected in a new acquisition.
“I’d Rather Go Blind” looks at the tragic consequences of grief.
“Father’s Day” conjures a tight bond between a young girl and her dad.
The emotion in “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “Father’s Day” is top notch.
I really enjoyed the range of horror stories and universally relatable characters in this great collection.