Book Review: Peel Back and See

I read Mike Thorn's Darkest Hours about a year ago and was seriously impressed by it. Peel Back and See might be even better. There are some truly great stories in this collection, and while not every story will work for every person (and you might not want to eat before reading some of these), I found myself enjoying most of them even more than I expected.

My favorites include "Mini McDonagh Manor." In this story, after her mother's death, Julie builds a replica of her childhood home, before ultimately deciding to go home and visit the real thing for the first time in years. She believes something sinister lurks there and wants to find out once and for all what it is. This is the most legitimately creepy story in the whole collection and gave me actual chills. If you like this one, make sure you also don't miss out on "Dreams of Lake Drukka," which could easily be a companion piece to "Manor."

Another standout is "Deprimer," which along with the book's closer, "Fade to White," features some of the most spot on descriptions of depression I've ever read. Take this quote for example:

That was the thing with depression...for Vincent it was not some brutal, fiery affect that left him sobbing and pulling out his hair. Most days, it was a kind of deadly nothingness. A boredom so complete that it crushed out the surrounding world. These days even getting up for work had become a seismic effort, so excruciating you might as well have asked him to bungee-jump out his bedroom window at seven in the morning.

As someone who has faced constant battles with depression, that passage speaks right to my experiences with the disease.

"Offer to the Adversary," a tale of art powerful enough to alter the fabric of one woman's reality, was originally published in 2021's Beyond the Book of Eibon, an anthology of stories inspired by the work of Lucio Fulci, who is one of my all time favorite directors. "Adversary" was one of my favorites in that collection, just as it is in this one.

My final favorite is "The Furnace Room Mutant," a fun, escapist tale that ends up on a surprisingly upbeat note and warmed my heart. As Thorn acknowledges in his Author's Notes, many of the stories in this collection are on the pessimistic side, and "Mutant" is a bright spot amidst that darkness.

Fans of Thorn's first collection should absolutely check out Peel Back and See. While his first collection was great fun, this one shows his growth as a writer, and I feel like a lot of these stories are going to stick with me for a long time. If you haven't read Thorn's work this is the perfect place to jump on. I can't wait to read what he writes next.

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