Book Review : Matthew M. Bartlett - Gateways to Abomination (2014)
Among the most ghastly sounds a man can hear is the sound of a voice in what he thought was an empty house.
I usually don't review self-published material. Not that it isn't an interesting, new way of thinking the publishing experience for authors and readers alike but new and interesting voices are few and far between in a sea of appalling material and people desperate for validation. Not only Matthew M. Bartlett came highly recommended from friend of the blog Max Booth III, he also published Bartlett not once, but TWICE in his latest anthology Lost Signals. Endorsements don't get better than that. Bartlett's self-published debut collection Gateways to Abomination became somewhat of a cult hit for horror fans since its publication in 2014, so I decided to give it a go for horroctober. See what the fuss is about. It might've costed me a night of sleep or two.
Gateways to Abomination is not exactly a short story collection. It isn't actually a proper novel-in-stories either. The best way to describe it would be: a series of interconnected vignettes depicting the life in Leeds, a small town in Massachusets under the spell of a Satanic cult. While it isn't clear who narrates the entirety of the vignettes, the great majority of them are skits from an infamous local radio station named WXXT, which is controlled by the cult. The vignettes in Gateways to Abomination are not only interrelated, but sometimes pursue key storylines that give a better overall portrait of what happened and what is currently happening in Leeds. It follows recurring characters like Ben Stockton and Jebediah Blackstye and mysterious events like a gathering in the woods.
To claim Gateways to Abomination has an unreliable narrator would be underselling it. Not only you don't know if the narrator is telling the truth, you don't know whether or not he's narrating something that happened, something that he wished happened of something he dreamed of. It is also never clear if there are several protagonists (also it is hinted at) and whether or not they are on the air on WXXT. Gateways to Abomination is a glitchy, fragmented and gloriously amorphous mindfuck. I guess it could've went the extra mile and fragment the delivery of each story instead of the causality between them, but it isn't what Matthew M. Bartlett is trying to do here. He is trying to freak people out, not make a literary statement. No matter how tempting it is to focus on missed opportunities, you have to appreciate a book for what it is and Gateways to Abomination is terrifying.
I could single out standout stories here. The Arrival storyline, The Sons of Ben or The Ballad of Nathan Whiteshirt a great examples of the extent of Matthew M. Bartlett talent. Do yourself a favor though and experience Gateways to Abomination organically. Preferably from cover to cover in one sitting on a dark October evening. It is frightening both in style and substance. The vivid depictions of surreal atrocities sure pain a spectacular portrait and earned Bartlett the criticism of writing "the violent fantasies of a deranged 5 year old" but there's something about the form in Gateways to Abomination which supersedes any dread that the content of any single vignettes and which makes a cover-to-cover reading even uncannier. There is no beginning and no end to Matthew M. Bartlett's collection. It denies its readers the conventional crutches of conventional storytelling.
Gateways to Abomination is not for everybody. It is an ultraviolent and uncompromising piece of storytelling. Sometimes for the hell of it, too. So you gotta have a stomach for such elements. Matthew M. Bartlett is an undeniably original new voice in cosmic horror though and Gateways to Abomination is adorably chaotic and unpredictable. I give you the greenlight to start reading him, beautiful people. Bartlett is self-published, but unless it is by choice, it's a question of time before a lucky publisher corrals him under his wing. We already established on this site that radios were terrifying and now you have a new reason to fear them: you never know who (or what) is talking on the other end or whether it's just you that is freewheeling or not. Gateways to Abomination is energetic, original and 1,000% freaky. Hide from kids and read this on Halloween night. You can thank me after.