What really intrigued me about this collection at first glance was the cover and I truly could not resist. Chad was gracious enough to send me a copy to review and I am terribly excited to write this review, so here goes…
SPICY CONSTELLATION & OTHER RECIPES by Chad Lutzke, is a collection of shorts that press all sorts of buttons for me. There is brutal, macabre horror, quietly moving almost literary shorts, and other stories that are pure chuckles. All of this wrapped up in an overall twisted package, since Lutzke is by far an extremely accomplished horror writer and comes out in every single story.
Beginning with, “The One Who Took,” offers an examination of how people deal with lying to themselves, on multiple levels. A rather benign conversation goes south quite fast and to a bleak conclusion. The rather gross and macabre twist made me actually put the book down before I dared move further into the collection. Not many stories give me that much of a visceral reaction, but Lutzke dialed it up to 11 for the first story and held nothing back.
“A Stranger Dream,” follows a pair of strangers as they search for a missing girl. The quiet nature of this almost hides what the story is doing, but I really appreciated this story by the end. After such a loud and fast start, the casual, slow nature of this one was a welcome change.
Continuing this quiet trend was “The Secret,” which is a story that follows a mother and a secret that she allows to fester during a party. This is such a strange situation, but to avoid spoilers, I will say that it is the first taste of how much Lutzke’s writing can move you.
“What I Wouldn’t Give” is one man’s negotiation with a demon, as he attempts to sell his soul in order to play guitar well. His wife comes home early and throws a wrench in these plans. This one took me by surprise, since all of the stories to this point had been eerie or brutal and I spent most of the time, while reading this short, wondering when someone was going to die horribly. I won’t say if it happens or not, but be ready to laugh during this one.
The story of which this collection takes it’s name. “Spicy Constellation”, follows a pair of young men, who go on a murderous rampage induced by drugs. It’s both horrendous and humorous once you find out what the “spicy constellation” is, but all the same this was a brutal escapade to follow, right down to the last line.
Another humorous story here was “TV Casualty”, which details a band’s conflict with one of their members who has become increasingly insufferable and the results are quite mushy. Lutzke has a fantastic way of balancing both humor and horror all at once. Many may disagree with one cannot find humor in violence, the sheer absurdity he creates through his various scenarios, I cannot help, but literally guffaw at them. And yes, I did just use the word “guffaw” there just isn’t a better word.
And it seems that Lutzke saved the best story for last here, and it is my personal favorite of the whole collection. “Catch Him,” two children after the death of their father, patiently wait by his gravestone. The reason, well read the story. It must have been one of the most moving short stories I have read in a while, though I can attribute my own personal connection of my mother’s death as to why this story made such an impact. Setting my own feelings aside, this story is excellent in what it sets out to do and hammers very drop of thematic tone into the ending. It was beautiful.
I hadn’t read Lutzke before this collection, but it will not be my last time. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up!