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Gutshot is great, but it deserves the "not for everyone" tag. The same is true of everything Amelia Gray writes, since she's never shied away from the surreal or the grotesque. However, Gutshot's bound to be especially divisive, since in places it's violent to the point of being sickening. This is the weirdest book she's written so far. For the author of a book called Museum of the Weird, that's saying something.
So with that in mind, what keeps Gray above "gross for gross' sake" and makes her an author worth reading? A couple of things. First off, her writing style. She avoids the lazy banalities of similarly grotesque writers, steering clear of the deliberate shallowness of Tao Lin or Bret Easton Ellis at their worst. Her prose isn't pretty and it shouldn't be, but she avoids the blunted affect so many other writers of strange fiction seem to prefer. Since she allows herself more emotional and tonal range, her stories hit hard. She makes you feel the claustrophobic terror of being trapped in a house's ventilation system ("House Heart"), the mix of melancholy and frustration of being haunted by your mother ("The Lives of Ghosts") and the confusion of a town divided by a gigantic serpent ("Year of the Snake"). So she not only gives you weird events but the real consequences of events. Gray's characters may be stuck in unlikely situations, but those situations still have a real impact on them, and she knows how to make you feel that impact.
There's also a sense of natural progression from her previous books to this one. She's been playing with odd emotional tones, shorter forms, and strange events since her first collection, AM/PM. She expanded these ideas out with 2010's Museum of the Weird and started to investigate their emotional consequences with her great 2012 novel Threats. But Gutshot is where she synthesizes these aspects into short fiction that's not just weird but also imaginative and powerful. So even though a couple stories aren't fantastic, especially toward the end, you can't ask for much more than that. I'm so excited to see what she'll do next!
Out of 10: 9.7