Books · Healing Power of Horror · Horror · Trauma

Book Review: Exquisitely Demented Tales Feature in Paula Ashe’s “We Are Here To Hurt Each Other”

Self-portrait with my new favorite short story collection.

If Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs procreated with Clive Barker and VC Andrews, you’d get something close to the exquisitely twisted tales in Paula Ashe’s WE ARE HERE TO HURT EACH OTHER. The author happens to be a dear sister-friend and one of my most favorite humans of all time, and as I read these stories I understand in a totally new way why we are so connected since the moment we met. We both look into the darkness and find comfort there, because from these places of deepest despair is where we can best see the silhouettes of light and joy in the distance that suddenly seems much closer now that we’ve spent time holding the many-tentacled hands of our deepest fears and survived traumas. Gorgeous prose shaping wild and shocking grotesqueries, indeed we are here to hurt each other, but as we approach the Dawn we are also here to heal each other. And I feel just that much closer to seen and whole after spending time in Paula Ashe’s imaginarium of beautiful horrors and fearless storytelling. She showed me such sights and I want more. But since there aren’t any more available right now, I read the whole book again.

I’ve long been obsessed with Jack the Ripper theories and in “Jacqueline Laughs Last in the Gaslight” Ashe offers one of the juiciest I’ve seen yet. “Because You Watched” is one of the most complicated and painful stories of revenge I’ve ever read. “The Mother of All Monsters” takes the epistolary horror short to a new level. “Telesignatures From a Future Corpse” played out like a vivid Showtime horror miniseries in my head over its 36 pages. “Bereft” is a modern Victorian gothic, masterfully and most disturbingly painted by Ashe’s deft and shapeshifting prose. “All the Hellish Cruelties of Heaven” feels like an exponentially more harrowing sequel to Jennifer’s Body. “Exile in Extremis” drops you off in Old Town, Depravityville and sets the path out of town on fire, in the best way.

The interludes of flash fiction are demented fairy tales that frightened me more than the longer tales, because the monsters were there behind the sparse imagery, amorphous and so terrifyingly compelling I am actually scared to know more; these pieces of flash remind me of my favorite kinds of horror that leave the details off screen, up to our own imagination.

This collection of mad curiosities is not for the faint of heart. These tales have teeth and will bite the unsuspecting. Be prepared in case they won’t let you go. For me, though, they feel like a strange kind of homecoming. And thanks to trauma therapy, going “home” is no longer devastating, it’s in fact empowering to be reminded I am not alone in these shadow places. Thank you, Paula Ashe, Queen of Martyrs. Anna would be so proud.

WE ARE HERE TO HURT EACH OTHER is available through Amazon.

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