"You attended a funeral recently, did you not?" - The Shostark
Ghosts Can Bleed is the first collection of stories, flash fiction, and poetry, to bare the name Tracie McBride. Within the covers the reader is presented with the amazing total of forty one original fiction pieces to wet their appetite for destruction. Like most first collections the book drags together any number of divergent pieces from the far flung Australian literary landscape. So yes you will run into the odd entry you have read before but I can guarantee there will be a number of new trips into the twilight zone. On the bright side of the editing pen, the content of Ghosts Can Bleed show an entirely original approach to storytelling, and more important an Author who has already found her voice.
First up, and don't we just love to get some confusion out of the way regardless if you are experiencing it or not, while Ms McBride may be kiwi born she has adopted Australia as her Country of choice. Hence for anyone wondering about the true blue flag above, blame Tracie, she decided to run with it. Seems there's a lot of us expat kiwis charging around Aussie dark genre circles. Now that we've got that out of the way, onwards with the review, which after all is why you are reading this.What's immediately notable about McBride's collection is that it can't be slotted into a purely horror pigeon hole with anything like a clear conscious. While there are horror elements, and straight out horror yarns, there's also a fair amount of Science Fiction and Fantasy loitering around the place. So I guess if I have to make a call here I would dub Ghosts Can Bleed as a work of speculative fiction rather than something to be read late Halloween evening. Though feel free to do just that, no skin off my nose. Just be warned, you are entering a twilight zone of prose and poetry rather than a pure haunted house of dark delights. Actually given McBride's ability to dance to a completely different drummer than a mainstream horror writer might summon, it's fair to say that you are more in a surrealistic landscape than most collections might entertain.
Which isn't to say that the dark elements aren't peeking out at you from the dark corners of the collection when you least expect them. Most readers, okay I'll rephrase, most Downunder horror geeks will immediately recognise Last Chance To See, with its supernatural leanings, from previous publications. I actually became aware of McBride via this excellent tale of a typical family gathering with the spectre of death not changing things from your suburban get together. But the Author isn't going to let the reader off the hook that easy, there's further dark delights to be sampled as McBride continues the Downunder assault on what constitutes a horror yarn. Baptism drives a traditional seadog tale in a completely new direction, the House of Mouse would collectively run screaming into the night if they were exposed to what this Author does with mermaids! This is one tale of the macabre that is going to resonant with readers. One of the weirder tales in the collection I ran across, and you know I've read it somewhere else as well, was the well-conceived Trading Up. Right at the moment I'm not quite sure what sort of a card McBride is dealing from the dark deck with this humorous yet potent yarn. There's almost a Clive Barker left field feeling to the story, and yes I think it would be quite at home in a Book of Blood collection. Wonder if Barker has ever thought of compiling a Downunder tome to extend the texture of his seminal body of work?
While McBride is certainly journeying dark paths with her collection the casual reader can be safe in the knowledge that the Author isn't going deeper underground with a more sledgehammer to the head approach to her first major body of work. You defiantly are not in Haines or McBean territory here. Dreamcatcher, for example, demonstrates what can be done with a horror fable that doesn't overtly rely on gore or the knife in the dark for it's effect. The titular story Ghosts Can Bleed and Whipping Boy defiantly present a well-grounded argument that the idea can sometimes be a lot more powerful if it is left to the reader's imagination. To make that concept work you have to be a strong writer, thankfully Tracie McBride fits the bill.
What's interesting about this collection is McBride's ability to switch to the other branches of speculative fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy, bringing with her dark musing that are going to be apt to given our more accepted brethren nightmares. There are some nasty things going on out in the stars and in never never land, well there is at least if Tracie McBride visits far off lands. A Good Trade, for example, hits the paths of fantasy but I can guarantee that most readers will be left with a cold shudder as a legacy of reading this tale of magic and prices. Similarly After the Storm or One True Faith might be shrouded in Science Fiction, but there's a dark stain on that shroud.
While the collection is diverse in nature, like most first up collections from an Author there's not a central theme, there's a notion of darkness permeating throughout the pages. McBride writes with an eye to easy consumption and getting the story told, both advantages that Stephen King has highlighted, allowing the reader to submerge his or her self fully into the narrative. Tracie McBride shows a strong literary style that is going to resonant with a lot of readers, while the prose on the surface might seem simple there's a high degree of craftsmanship involved. I was for sure captivated by this collection and had a solid reading experience as I journeyed through the worlds McBride seems to create with apparent ease. Full recommendation, this is how speculative fiction should be written, go grab the collection today you will not regret it.
Ghosts Can Bleed has been published by Dark Continents Publishing, a new Writers collective that already has quite an impressive catalogue available. For further details, and purchasing options, visit the Publishers Web Site. You can thank me later.