It’s 2019, and the horror genre can often still use disturbingly careless tactics in attempts to induce fear and shock; deformities and disabilities portrayed as monstrous traits and the severe torture and murder of women being normalised are among some of the harmful tropes. It is such a refreshing relief to pick up Laura Mauro’s Sing Your Sadness Deep and find another fresh horror writer who has found inventive ways to produce said fear and shock.
Sing Your Sadness Deep is the debut collection of short stories from award-winning Mauro. The horror within these pages is poignant yet, as the title suggests, the stories revolve around elements of sadness. Themes include childhood memories, grief, terminal illness, isolation, paranoia, and pain. In short, Mauro has played on some very human anxieties and struggles, and to skilful effect.
It is usually the case within a collection that some of the stories act as little more than filler. Not so in Sing Your Sadness Deep. Each story feels vital, and each is as chilling as the last, whether because we recognise our feelings and fears within them or just because Mauro is a gifted story-weaver. Stand out stories include In The Marrow, a poignant and heart-breaking tale of young twins, one severely ill and the other unable to cope; The Looking Glass Girl, about grief and rediscovering past family secrets; and Strange as Angels, where a woman nurtures a bizarre creature to health while dealing with her boundary-overstepping friend. Two of the stories have also won awards: “Looking for Laika” (winner of the British Fantasy Award), and “Sun Dogs” (finalist of the Shirley Jackson Award). Both are incredibly worthy of the honour.
Mauro has a way of making you feel tension, even in the stories that don’t necessarily fit within the scope of traditional horror. As much as I love spooky settings in decayed castles and dark foggy forests, Mauro demonstrates that urban landscapes and bright sunny locations also have a lot to offer to a genre with some well-earned staples. Throughout the collection, the reader travels through hospitals, pubs, cities, cabins, caravans and flats, with a slowly dawning realisation that perhaps we carry our fears around with us and that perhaps the cliché is right: nowhere is safe.
Mauro’s writing style is sleek and powerful. Each sentence feels carefully crafted, and each story well-edited and spine-tingling. I found that I couldn’t rush through Sing Your Sadness Deep. I had to read slowly, as I savoured every word and meaning, feeling nourished (and creeped out, of course) with every tale. Mauro’s astounding writing style, coupled with the intensely strong imagery, are the core strengths of Sing Your Sadness Deep. There are some wonderfully evocative sentences including, “The sky was a cut mouth bleeding out onto the western mountains”, and, “Naked flesh like jester’s motley, a split and weeping harlequin”, to merely point at a few. I found certain phrases have stuck in my mind, that pop up randomly during my day, and I truly believe that is what makes a great writer. Every single scene is visceral, and Mauro makes you feel precisely as her characters do; revulsion, sorrow, pity and fear are among some of the emotions I felt while reading this remarkable book. There is a particular heart-eating scene that I think will haunt me to the grave…
It is also worth noting that Mauro’s stories are quietly inclusive. Characters hail from different backgrounds, countries, sexualities, genders, and identities, and she writes them all with care and passion. She quietly introduces real-life issues for these characters, touching on the horrors in their lives. For example, in “Ptichka”, we see an immigrant who is denied basic healthcare during her pregnancy due to her home office status. What ensues is real-life horror blended with fictional horror, a combination that works really well. Mauro’s general blurring of reality and fiction is what makes this collection so haunting and so scary: because it feels real. The emotional resonance within these pages will surely last.
It is difficult to find any issues with this collection. With only thirteen stories, I would have liked more, but that is more an indication of my appetite than of criticism. Perhaps a second collection, please?
With stunning prose, wicked imagery and creative ways of invoking fear, Sing Your Sadness Deep is a must-read. A spellbinding array of horror from a writer at the top of her game.
Sing Your Sadness Deep by Laura Mauro is published by Undertow Publications. Buy the book.