What I’m Reading: Bodies Full of Burning

Hey, it’s a Writers of Chantilly book, sort of! Bodies Full of Burning is a horror anthology, and one of the stories is by WoC writer D. A. Jobe. And I really probably wouldn’t have picked this up if not for that, as the theme of the anthology is menopause.

Actually, menopause turns out to be a pretty good theme for horror, which may or may not surprise people, particularly women of a certain age. Hot flashes, weird lusts and desires, the desire for revenge against men who don’t understand, the end of monthly bleeding, and a general overall idea of transformation into something new…all ripe material for a horror writer. I’ve read quite a few horror and SF anthologies over the years, and this one is well above average.

So, D.A. Jobe’s story “Nobody Warns You,” is indeed one of the best stories. It’s about a camping trip that goes really, really wrong. Several women, including Meghan Clarke, are sent on a sort of Outward Bound trip, except instead of being for troubled teen-agers, it’s for problematic menopausal ladies who’ve been sent by their frustrated husbands. One night when they’ve set up camp, a tree falls over, crushing the campsite. Meghan was the only camper who lived, and she survived three days until she was found, with one leg pinned under the tree trunk, drifting in and out of consciousness, and fighting off increasingly bold wildlife. It’s quite harrowing, and with a very surprising twist that I did not see coming.

Another favorite was Marsheila Rockwell’s “It Will Have Blood, They Say,” giving us the “true” history of the notorious medieval serial killer, Elizabeth of Bathory. It turns out in this version, Elizabeth’s reputation as a medieval serial killer, bathing in the blood of peasant virgins to keep herself young, is not the whole story. Oh, Elizabeth still comes off pretty horrifically, but the reader finishes with just a bit more sympathy for her than she might have had going in.

Like I mentioned earlier, a number of stories take up the theme of transformation. “Four Acres and a Shovel” by Carman Webb, is the best of these, with a menopausal woman discovering that even as her human shell is aging and decaying, something that lives inside her is being born, something really weird and grotesque, but I don’t want to say any more than that. Webb’s story also takes on the theme of revenge against husbands or men who don’t quite get menopause, as do quite a few of the stories. “Here There Are Dragons,” by Megan M. Davies-Ostrom, is refreshing in that it tackles transformation without any reference to men at all.

So out of the 16 stories, three or four are really good ones, several are at least pretty interesting, and only two didn’t do anything at all for me. That adds up to a horror anthology that’s worth buying. I can’t quite say I can recommend this book for everyone, but for a horror fan looking for something new, or perhaps a woman of a certain age looking to take out some aggression, there’s some worthwhile reading here.

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