Arterial Bloom
Edited and illustrated by Mercedes M. Yardley
Crystal Lake Publishing (April 3, 2020)
Review by Bret McCormick

Arterial Bloom is a beautiful book: beautiful in its design, with memorable illustrations, and beautiful in its use of the language. Mercedes M. Yardley has created an eerie literary collection of tales having little in common with the many horror anthologies presently available to readers.

Horror is in the eye of the beholder, and not all horror fans will find this to their liking. Mainstream horror has more in common with ground beef than crepes Suzette. This table of delicacies offers measured, refined and subtle flavors, more likely to meet the expectations of New Yorker fans than Stephen King addicts. For much of America, horror fiction is junk food. Here Mercedes serves up a genteel portion of haute horror cuisine. There are more than a handful of memorable, even haunting stories, but is it really horror? The reader will have to decide.

Existential dilemmas like meaningless struggle, uneasy alliances, the constitution of reality, hidden forces of nature, culpability and obsession are all carefully, skillfully examined on these beautiful pages. There is compelling and thought-provoking reading here for those without rigid definitions of the nature of this grim genre.

The closest thing to a traditional horror story on this smorgasbord is “The Darker Side of Grief” by Naching T. Kassa. It offers an almost sweet examination of the bonds formed between strangers thrown together by adversity. In this case, the struggle is against a supernatural entity destroying a family with its hunger.

“Doodle Bug” by John Boden lingers in the mind, with its uneasy fusion of romance, pyromania, and precognition.

Beginning with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Oval Portrait,” there’s an honorable tradition of tales linking art and horror. Daniel Crow taps this vein with originality and skill in “Welcome to Autumn.”

The most original, haunting and exquisite in its melding of the familiar and the unsuspected is “Three Masks” by Armand Rosamilia. The less said about this unique creation, the better. The reader should wander unwarned into this maze of creative imagination.

The grimmest chords struck in Arterial Bloom resonate from “Blue Was Her Favorite Color” by Dino Parenti. This examination of death and family secrets lingers like a bad dream over morning coffee.

The least likely contribution to the anthology, though entertaining and compelling in its special way, is “Kudzu Stories” by Linda J. Marshall. As a lifelong denizen of the American South, this reviewer is all too familiar with the source of inimitable anguish mixed with humor known as kudzu. Even at its worst, the plant and its legacy of human hubris is mostly funny. Albeit sardonically so.

These sixteen tales provide ample treasure for readers who love the literary as well as the horrific. Well done, Ms. Yardley.