Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a short story collection that feels like it was made for women who love horror — probably because it was written by one. Christa Carmen injects her novel with her personal experiences as a woman, as a horror fan, and as a recovered addict. It’s raw, sometimes brutal (and not always in the blood-and-guts way), and fun.
As with any short story collection, some entries are stronger than others. My personal favorites were “Flowers from Amaryllis,” which made me cry, and “The Girl Who Loved Bruce Campbell,” which made me laugh out loud. The stories range in length from a couple of pages to short novellas and range in style from poetic surrealism to chilling suspense to outrageous gore-fests. I truly believe that there’s something in this collection to suit every genre fan’s tastes.
My favorite thing about this collection is how deeply personal many of the stories felt. Horror fiction can be incredibly introspective when done well, holding up a mirror to the parts of the human experience that can be difficult to explore in more audience-friendly genres. Carmen understands this, and many of the stories in this collection feel like brutally honest self-portraits. This is us, they seem to say. This is what makes us monsters.
I also appreciated that Carmen includes real-world women’s issues in her stories without turning them into sermons. I’m not sure I would describe these stories as feminist — they aren’t necessarily trying to push a political or social agenda, or even raise awareness. A lot of the references to gender politics are subtle. I think it would be more accurate to say that these are stories about womanhood, written to honestly reflect how women live (and what issues they face) in the modern world.
For example, in the story, “Red Room,” Carmen makes explicit reference to the Cassandra trope. TV Tropes defines the Cassandra as a “person characterized by two things — she (or he) gives correct and accurate warnings and predictions, and what she says is consistently belittled or ignored by the rest of the cast.” The story’s protagonist even points out that, in horror films, it’s often a young female character who tries to warn others and is ignored — even though, ultimately, ignoring her proves fatal. She’s called the Final Girl for a reason, after all.
In another story, the protagonist is a professional who is belittled by her (male) boss. But is that a feminist commentary, or just an accurate reflection of what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace? There are several stories starring women in various stages of recovery from drug addiction that explore how addiction twists our perception of womanhood, but again, is that intentional commentary or just an author speaking from experience? My money’s on the latter.
Overall, Something Borrowed, Something Bloodsoaked is a fun, gory, brutally honest, and deeply emotional collection of horror stories that I highly recommend to any horror fan. Even when Carmen employs familiar tropes, she finds delightfully twisted ways to turn them on their heads.
Overall Rating: 💀💀💀💀 (4 skulls out of 5!)