Monday, July 17, 2023

Raglin (ed.), Shredded (2022)

Eric Raglin (ed.), Shredded: A Sports and Fitness Body Horror Anthology. Cursed Morsels Press, 2022. Pp. 274. ISBN 978-1-73695-327-3. $13.99.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

First off: I am not a sports person. The closest I come to a sports horror story is being stuck on the bleachers in the freezing rain waiting for my sister’s track meet to finish. So I wasn’t initially real drawn to Shredded. However, I have full faith in Eric Raglin as a horror editor. Can he overcome my inherent indifference to athletic events? Let’s find out!

My immediate reaction to this theme was “Isn’t there only one sports story?” Can you really fill an anthology without them all feeling the same? And, yes, this is an issue—a solid half of the stories are some variation on “someone wants to get good at a sport, so they do something (usually eat something) inadvisable, and it turns them monstrous.” As a result, some of the quieter stories, like “Scale” by Rien Gray, tend to get lost, when they might have been major highlights in another context. The protagonists also tend towards a type—a lot of teen boys—though I appreciate a number of women’s and queer perspectives. Do yourself a favor and read this collection slowly with some time between each story so you can really appreciate them fully.

Still, there’s plenty of variety outside of that theme, and those are the stories that really shone for me. “Don’t Make It Weird” by Red Lagoe captures the frustration of girls who constantly get creeped on by boys when they just want to play the game. And then there’s my personal favorite from this anthology, “It All Comes Back” by Matthew Pritt, where a washed-up former football player relives his injuries one by one, as recounted by his wife. The opening sentence is an absolute knockout:

My husband, Alan, is 46 years old, and on good days, he can still wipe his own ass.

What a way to start a story.

Anyhow, stories are more than just themes, and in execution, this anthology really delivers, lavishing us with some of the goopiest, squishiest horror prose it has ever been my pleasure to read. “More Weight” by Joe Koch & Michael Tichy, captures that crunchy “oof” of the moment when you get injured and know your body will never be okay again (Deadlifting: Why?), as well as the sport’s inherent homoeroticism (Oh, that’s why). But the gooiest of all is “Flesh Advent” by D. Matthew Urban, which brings together a bizarre cosmic horror plot with lusciously disgusting prose:

Thick fluid spurts in twin fountains into the chilly air as the blinded boy screams, claps his hands to his face, stumbles and falls, his momentum still carrying him forward, rolling him over the dry grass, bits of yellow stubble sticking to his jelly-clotted cheeks.

The fact that I can’t resist quoting so much from this anthology is a very, very good sign.

The final question Shredded leaves both sports fans and non-fans with is “Why do we do this?” Why do we throw ourselves into careers where everyone peaks before age 30? Why do we participate in activities that injure and disable so many people? Is it self-delusion? Masochism? Radical acceptance of our inevitable mortality? Various stories explore each of these explanations. Overall, Shredded could have been a couple stories shorter and a little more varied. But it amply compensates for these weaknesses with emotional resonance and top-notch horror prose.

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