Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
The Sick Stuff, written by Ronald Kelly, is a short story collection consisting of both previously published and unpublished works. Kelly is a horror writer within the Southern Gothic tradition. Initially writing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the author took a ten year hiatus before picking back up the pen in 2006. The stories in the collection represent a mix of Kelly’s early and more recent writings. Tales include:
Pins and Needles
Ronald Kelly lives in Tennessee. Tennessee serves as the primary backdrop to all of his stories which focus primarily on the grotesque imagery expected in a contribution to the southern gothic literary movement. While some sexuality and gore does exist in the tales, the book falls well short of the more explicit splatterpunk subgenre, with the notable exception of “Pins and Needles.”
Interestingly, the notion of a predatory female character is pervasive throughout many of the stories. Often these women are villainous creatures with perverse sexual desires. They prey upon men, which while by no means blameless, often are portrayed as the victims. It is a fascinating twist which makes The Sick Stuff standout -along with its rural Tennessee setting- as something fresh and noteworthy.
Two of the strongest stories are “Mojo Mamma” and “Housewarming.” “Mojo Mamma” is exclusive to the collection. It follows a family’s curse brought on by a lust-filled wife and a vengeful husband, who murders one of their slaves. Now, it is up to their son to bring an end to the curse, but to do so, it will require him to come face to face with the swamp witch known as Mojo Mamma.
“Housewarming” is an older tale, first appearing in Eldritch Tales No. 7 back in 1990. The story centers on a man who moves into an old house said to have a very bad spider problem. However, he has searched the house and found no sign of the eight-legged creatures. This changes when he has a house warming party and his girlfriend receives a small bug bite. No big deal, it is only one spider, right? Wrong.
The Sick Stuff is a fun collection, populated with interesting characters and settings. Ronald Kelly is far from a novice in the horror genre. Yet, his name may be unfamiliar to younger readers. The Sick Stuff offers a fascinating introduction to the writer and his works which sure to amuse and horrify the reader.