From a reader’s perspective, short story collections are generally a crapshoot. For writers, it’s that much more. Unless you write stories specifically for the collection (and let’s be honest, who really does that?) you end up sifting through a pile of stories trying to find a common thread, common tone, common characters: anything to pull these disparate pieces into a cohesive whole. Even after you get a finished product, the flow can feel staggered, the connections forced, the quality uneven. It takes both a goodly amount of talent as both a writer and editor to pull together a good collection. I guess that’s why Chris Holm keeps winning all these awards, yeah?
8 Pounds is a collection of crime, horror and suspense stories. The stories range from rural Virginia to the netherworlds located off a Pennsylvania highway to cobblestone streets covered in British fog. There are little girls and cold-blooded men. When reading, I kept looking for a unifying thread, something to indicate why these stories are collected together. It wasn’t until I finished that I realized it wasn’t a place or a person, but an overwhelming sense of dread that linked these pieces. Yeah, you say, sure there is. It’s a crime and horror collection fer Chrissakes. Beyond that darkness that hovers around these stories, though, there is also the sense that we have no idea what the fuck will happen in any given situation. Copious amounts of blood are splashed across the pages, but so are tender moments. Multiples limbs signpost the beats, but so do flashes of hope. A character is as likely to get a bullet in the mouth as they are a kiss, and that’s what makes this collection so damn enjoyable. Holm understands that unrelenting darkness is just that: Unrelenting. You need light to be scared of the dark. You need to laugh to open up your chest for the suckerpunch. You need to believe that there is the possibility of making it out alive to really be scared for the characters. Holm gives us all of this, and in every story.
My skin felt damp after reading “Seven Days of Rain”, the tale of a past that can’t be outrun. “A Better Life” used the perfect quirks of domesticity to lull me into a pastoral calm before breaking my heart with its unexpected turns. Just simply badass? That’s “A Simple Kindness” and the title track, “Eight Pounds”. And “The Well”? It pretty much scared the shit out of me in the way that very few 800-word stories can. And that’s barely half the collection.
There is no rehashing in this collection, no character exploited or setting recycled. There aren’t any gimmicks or cheap scares. It is, pure and simple, great story-telling from a writer who is starting to get the attention they deserve.