Praise for Beautiful Sorrows:
“Beautiful Sorrows… delicate prose with devastating impact. Mercedes Yardley is a female Joe Hill, and I fear her ‘Broken’ will haunt me to my grave.”
—F. Paul Wilson, New York TimesBestselling Author of The Keep and The Tomb
“Mercedes M. Yardley has the Right Stuff. She demonstrates that in her wonderful collection of short stories: Beautiful Sorrows. Each story is a different kind of gem, the bagful priceless.”
—Gene O’Neill, Bram Stoker Award™-winning Author of The Taste of Tenderloin and Double Jack
Before reading Beautiful Sorrows, the short story collection from Mercedes M. Yardley, I was familiar with some of her pieces in Shock Totem Magazine, but it wasn’t until I attended one of her readings at KillerCon this past year in which she read from a story called “Black Mary” that her fiction galvanized me where I sat. To witness such mastery in storytelling, such powerful use of words, and most of all, such stark emotion, is to be in the presence of something truly great. Mercedes writes with an astoundingly unique voice, which comes across in every one of her pieces. Mercedes’s writing crashes into your head from the side like a wave of stars. Prepare to be amazed, dark fiction fans.
The first tale, just a few sentences long, is “Broken,” a piece of hint fiction. Although it’s a brief and simple description, in very few words it conveys a sense of ominous foreboding and has a huge creep factor.
“Black Mary,” the story mentioned above, raises as many questions as it answers, painting a harsh portrait of a young girl who has a harsh kidnapper, but also another girl, Black Mary, who could be a lot of things, and will have you guessing right to the end.
“Extraordinary Beast” revolves around a good-looking guy who has more sinister intentions than he lets on; although a short piece, it does its job well.
Switching things up to a tint of sweetness mixed in with the shadows, we get “The Boy Who Hangs the Stars,” which is about a winged boy who puts the stars up in the sky. He befriends a girl who is listening to the water in a river, trying to hear its message. She finds a way around the fact that his hands can’t hold anything, making a necklace out of the stone she gave him. Charmingly, he throws stars into the sky, and shows her a box where he keeps the star babies, and he helps her become visible in a town that has forgotten her.
We get into more whimsical territory with “Untied” about a woman who tries to convince her co-worker not to commit suicide because he’s insecure about many things; you’ll be glad to know this one has a happy ending.
“The Container of Sorrows” shows us a boy in a room with a girl holding a jar that she says is a container of sorrows. He unleashes his pent up negative emotions and bad feelings in there, which she seals, but nothing stays the same forever.
Going back to the real world, “A Place of Beauty” is about a woman who isn’t content with her husband’s idea of a loving relationship. She’s far more interested in a man on the subway who looks at everything we take for granted with a different gaze.
“Music to Jump By” gives a whole new meaning and use for mix tapes while “Axes,” one of the stories to mix horror with humour well, is one of my favourite pieces. Jill, an axe murderer, disturbs the main character; Death makes an appearance, with a surprise entertaining ending.
Azhar mourns the loss of his beloved daughter in “The Quiet Places Where Your Body Grows”; this tale also has a high creep factor, and the title has a disturbing significance.
“Show Your Bones” is a story of anorexia that highlights Western culture’s preoccupation with finding beauty in being ghastly thin and unhealthily pale while “The ABCs of Murder” is another story with a dash of humour in which Billy just won’t die no matter what; also has a disturbing ending.
Another great short piece with a huge impact is “A Place Shielded from Horrors” while “Crosswise Cosmos Sabotage” is a quirky tale of two women neighbours highlighting the petty lengths people go to for little revenges against people who piss us off; much kudos to Mercedes for making a quotidian and familiar scenario exciting and funny.
“Life” is about a sad girl who tries to convince herself that the guy she’s with in a field is Michael Thomas; it shines a light on how desperate people can get when they want to avoid facing the grim reality of some situations to the point that they convince themselves delusions are real.
“Luna E Volk” is a love story featuring Andros and Serena, which is a tale rooted in myth, about how he believes she’s Luna, the moon goddess, and he’s the wolf at her side, but it plays out differently from what he imagined, much to his dismay.
I never thought it was possible to personify stars twice in the same collection, let alone once, and to be unique, as well, but Mercedes does this with “Stars,” a fairy tale-like story, which leads nicely into the next piece, “Wings,” a sad but sweet story of a winged boy who goes to school, meets a girl who he’s convinced is setting him up for a prank, but learns that he can have a happy ending.
“Sweet, Sweet Sonja T” is a powerful, evocative piece about an editor who encourages a young talented author, Sonja, and publishes the piece he’s been waiting to see from her. They meet at a conference, and the rest is history, but his thought process and the obsession that he considers love is definitely disquieting.
“Blossom Bones” is another super-creepy little short while “Edibility” is almost like a gardener’s nightmare. And as for “Heartless,” I recognized this story instantly after I began reading it as being part of the Shock Totem Holiday Tales issue. It was memorable and chilling then, and it feels the same now.
“Pixies Don’t Get Names” is another fantastical tale of someone who buys a huge stuffed shark to keep nightmares at bay, specifically nightmares about pixies, who seem to have permeated into reality. It’s one of the best examples of how Mercedes uses whimsy to make her short stories even more disturbing, with the juxtaposition of funny elements with scary ones.
“She Called Him Sky” will remind the reader of “The Boy Who Hangs the Stars” and “Winged” as one of the recurring themes in Mercedes’s fiction, specifically young boy and girl misfits and the ones they fall for. There’s a heart made of red crystal that the girl thinks she can fix for the boy, and by the end, the reader will be walloped with such an impact.
“Big Man Ben” is one of the longer stories of the collection, and also one of my favourites. It goes so much deeper than what it seems to be on the surface, a relationship gone wrong between an older woman and a younger man, but the woman Angelica’s revelations about marital neglect are just plain sad. It’s a tale that will cut you deep, and last a long time in your head. It will make you question your own life as you read about Ben moving to another state to be with Angelica, even though they’ve never physically consummated their relationship. In many ways, Mercedes saved the best for last with this story. It’s so powerful, so moving, and just so darn good.
Mercedes has also included notes at the back of the book that mention what inspired her to write a particular tale, or what she was thinking of at the time, and other insightful details that lend a deeper sense of intimacy to the reading experience.
This woman is a master of how to write a captivating hook, a first sentence that you just can’t turn away from, and no matter how long or short her pieces, they always leave you with a crashing impact that always takes a few seconds before it hits, but when it does, boy does it ever leave a lasting impression.
I also have to call attention to Yannick Bouchard, the cover artist, who did an astounding job with the cover and the interior artwork for this book; it’s so simple, but also haunting, and the combination of children’s chalk drawings with the dark subject matter was a very cool thing to do, but definitely not easy to pull off.
This collection deserves to be in all the major “best of” roundups this year, not to mention the award nominations I am hoping it gets, but I also want to emphasize that another beauty of this collection is that not every single story is pitch black. There are shades of darkness, some stories being lighter than others, some stories using full black ink, but it’s a wonderful mixture that produces one of the best horror collections that every horror fan must have on his or her shelf. If you haven’t bought your copy already, I urge you to do so with the links above and support this delightful and twisted author.