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Everything’s Scarier in Texas

Road Kill, Book Cover

Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers IV.
edited by Bret McCormick

Houston: Hellbound Books Publishing, 2019.
350 pp. $15.99 Paperback.

Reviewed by
Shaula Schneik Edwards

Picking up this collection, one is immediately drawn to the cover: yes, that is a giant, monster armadillo devouring members of a fleeing crowd. Yes, that’s an arm. Yeah, that dude is cut in half. And, as a lover of horror (pulpy, nasty horror at that), I was delighted. Horror, like rock music, has taken a backseat to other genres in recent years, and the bits that fight into the public’s eye seem overly precious and delicate. This anthology is a return to form. I’d say it is a gift for literary gore-hounds who like their terror Texas-sized.

   Nostalgic, campy, and often unexpectedly poignant, Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers IV is the latest installment of a nightmarish road trip through Texas’s terrifying literary geography, and it is a hell of a ride. This latest collection is a striking example of the spirit of authenticity at the heart of good horror. A regional anthology, Road Kill aims for original, spooky, and decidedly Texan stories, written by Texas authors, without falling into old, washed-out tropes, and often reinvigorating others. I think this installment succeeds in a spectacular manner. These sixteen stories take readers across on a nightmarish journey through Texas, and many of the tales also speak toward specifically Texas issues in a way that only good horror can, and many leave readers contemplating them long after they finish the collection. While these stories are all good, there are also a few that are worth highlighting.

   E.R. Bills’ “Nia” is the standout that involves a peace-loving college student in the aftermath of World War III. While there has been an indulgence of postapocalyptic works in recent years, “Nia” delivers a breath of fresh air to the genre by addressing race-relations in the Lone Star State. Like the best work of Richard Matheson or Ray Bradbury, “Nia” uses the genre’s conventions to address serious issues in ways that realism cannot.

   Other memorable stories such as “From These Muddy Waters” by Patrick C. Harrison III and “The Dark Rift” by Jeremy Helper include a cryptid that will make readers forget the Chupacabra, as well as some of the most well-crafted, distinctly Texan dialogue in the collection.  There are surprise endings throughout that will make you want to drink the kool-aid and never doubt your crazy, cultish family members ever again. There are a few stories that are strong with fear, but not as regional as I wished. Though this anthology has many delightful scares, a few stories are dull and predictable and seem chosen merely as padding since they have little connection to Texas and could take place anywhere.

   James H. Longmore’s “Harvey” (whose name should remind readers of the hurricane in 2017) and William Jensen’s “You Can Outrun the Devil If You Try,” however, are Texan to the bone. Both are radically different narratives with a focus on Texas weather. Longmore’s story is chilling, while Jensen creates an unbearable amount of tension with attention to heat, sweat, and blood. It is no coincidence that they’re placed together. I enjoyed these stories, but I have to admit the rest of the anthology’s order frustrated and disoriented me. Most anthologies try to place different types of tales beside one another to create a certain flow or rhythm. Road Kill IV had many pieces similar in length and theme next to each other, which made it monotonous at times.

   I want to point out the variety of talent promoted in in this collection: there are award-winning authors present and a few who have been featured in the previous volumes of the collection, to be sure. However, editor Brett McCormick also presents new blood at the altar of horror, and these writers bring in a wealth of talent as well as vivid imagination to the collection. One hopes the next edition of the anthology will continue in this tradition.

   Overall, Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers IV is an impressive addition to an already great series. There is something for every horror afficionado here. Texans reading will also appreciate the eerie familiarity of the environment the stories take place in. Finally, one will be hard-pressed to find another volume which presents such an original take on horror. It’s truly a slice of Texas life: perhaps an actual slice of pecan pie and sweet tea, with a side of gut-wrenching, gag-inducing, page-turning terror. Boo y’all.

Shaula Schneik Edwards earned her MA in literature from Texas State University. Her thesis was titled “Screening Disgust: The Emergence of Body Horror in Modern Cinema."