To Wallow in Ash and Other Sorrows by Sam Richard
“Shock and awe are only words. Sorrow is only a word. Grief is only a word. Words are symbols to make abstract concepts housebroken. The truths lying beneath sorrow, grief, are so much worse than anything I could conjure on my own.”
— From “Nature Unveiled” by Sam Richard
In his collection To Wallow in Ash and Other Sorrows, Sam Richard gives us a taste of these truths. Written soon after the passing of his wife, these stories were his way of coping with that loss. The product is powerful, well-crafted prose you can feel in your core. Knowing the truth behind the stories made it one of the most touching books I’ve read in a long time. And the fact that many stories were written à clef made it all too real.
The collection starts off with the titular story, written sixteen days after his wife’s death. Not-fully-realized grief coats the story of a widower grasping for the memory of his wife as she slowly fades away. Her ashes are all he has left and he will use them in any way possible to keep her a part of him. It is arresting to know that the author felt these raw emotions as he wrote it.
“Love Like Blood” is the disturbing yet heartfelt story of a man encountering his deceased wife’s doppelganger in a bar. We feel ourselves in the main character’s mind, every emotion present, the conflict deep and palpable.
In several stories, Richard combines splatterpunk and trangressive fiction with emotions like love and grief. Blood and viscera have never been more romantic as in “I Know Not the Names of the Gods to Whom I Pray.” While “We Feed This Muddy Creek” is the surprisingly beautiful story of a serial killer in love. We see the erotic side of grief in “Deathlike Love,” a story Richard himself describes as “harsh, unpleasant, ugly, and raw” yet somehow maintains a grace to it.
“The Prince of Mars” combined two of my favorite (though unrelated) authors: Edgar Rice Burroughs and William S. Burroughs. I would love to see this perverted amalgam grow into a longer piece of fiction.
One story, for me, tainted this otherwise amazing collection and without it, would have raised my rating to 9.5. “The Verdant Holocaust” is the nightmarish story of a violent cult, and though gore doesn’t bother me, the gallons of blood obscured the narrative as the characters and plot take back seat to the gruesome violence.
Oddly enough, “The Verdant Holocaust” is immediately followed by another story of cults, “Those Undone.” This latter story has everything I felt missing from the former and does a much better job with it.
There is not much else that I can find fault with. Awkward typos find their way into the most inconvenient locations, at times making it confusing or distracting. The story is not much of a page-turner, despite the excellent prose, but this may have been the author’s intent.
I think anyone who wants to better understand the nature of grief should pick this book up. It’s a beautiful collection of well-written horror that may leave you in tears. And I feel I’ve gained something through reading it.
You can find To Wallow in Ash and Other Sorrows on Amazon here.