Just about the whole collection, each story no more than a handful of pages, finds most of its characters defined by the extremity of their situations — or quirks, or insecurities — yet they deal with it all as a matter of course ... For the most part, though, Amelia Gray sounds like no one else. Her writing is by turns horrifying, funny, sexy and grotesque, but woe be to those who want to pin it down as horror, comedy, romance or fantasy. Sentence by sentence, these stories are simple, rarely complicated by rhetorical flourishes or formal experimentation, but the scenes they build can be deeply complex — and the emotions they summon often contradictory, too. And, at the beating heart of it all, Gray's on a quest to reclaim the body's rightful place in literature — the clumsy, bloody, inconvenient body, which so often gets left behind in high-minded drama ... By baring a bit of blood to the world, she reminds readers we're blood-bearing creatures after all, not just selves but bodies with beating hearts.
In Gutshot, Gray continues to use mentally unstable and unpredictable characters, and thus is able to create worlds with uncanny realities, at once strange and familiar, and always unexpected ... Perhaps the most unsettling attribute of Gray’s writing is her deadpan presentation of what are quite often unspeakable acts, and while this unsettling detachment gnaws away as we read, we are unwilling to remove ourselves from our discomfort before reaching the disturbing climax ... At no point does Gray indicate if she supports or condemns their beliefs and behaviors, and this absence of moral compass permeates her work, causing the reader to question their own morality when faced with such ambiguity ... By making us laugh, she offers a brief thrill of pleasure, before plunging us back into the horror. It can, at times, be alienating, and certainly one needs a strong stomach to read.
...her new story collection, Gutshot, is a bizarre and darkly funny world made of molten sugar and the ashes of everything she has set alight ... Reading Gutshot is a little like being blindfolded and pelted from all sides with fire, Jell-O and the occasional live animal. You’ll be messy at the end and slightly beaten up, but surprised and certainly entertained ... This is vintage Amelia Gray, a phantasmagoria of sex and love and perversion circling the idea of predator and prey, the idea of impulse and will and control. As with so many of her stories, she pushes against the outer limits of what humans can and will do ... Some stories will test readers and lose them.
This is what Gray does best: punctuate shocking scenes with quiet, meaningful moments ... With Gutshot she returns to super short stories. Although most are less than a few pages, they contain the emotional range of much longer works ... We expect our tales to build up to a cathartic conclusion, but Gray begins hers with bold exclamations, and carries the same eager tone throughout. The entire plot of each is high-pitched, aside from their tender conclusions ... But gratuitously violent scenes sometimes disrupt the cohesiveness of the collection ... When gore seeps into these plots, it can stir up an already gripping scene. But when it overtakes the story, the effect is suffocating.
Despite the wound referenced in its title, the violence in Gutshot is rarely explosive; rather, it is deliberate, brutal but unrushed, a twisting knife rather than a belly full of lead ... It's also gross. Gray lingers on the body's jellies, membranes, odors and excrescences with the kind of unabashed fascination that, after childhood, most people only indulge in the deepest privacy ... Gray's characters, though frantic to connect with one another, seem unable to experience beauty except through the most brutal violence ... Gray's sentences are at once spare and dense, with a bare minimum of the kind of subordinating conjunctions (although, because, unless) that establish logical relationships like causality. The result is a paratactical prose that feels slightly disconnected even at its most benign ... There follows a catalog of every blotch, pimple and drip afflicting the man, every bit of organic matter that might have fallen into the paper, until the page you're holding feels indelibly stained with humanity. If there's one story Gray is telling over and over again in Gutshot, it's about the embodiedness of language, the blood and guts of books themselves.
With an impressive range of styles, voices, and preoccupations all vying for priority, Gutshot is a difficult collection to discuss as a whole; it would be a disservice to Gray’s carefully curated chaos to wrestle the collection into a mold or to generalize unifying themes ... While the creative leaps in Gray’s micro-fictions are impressive, Gutshot’s strongest stories are those where Gray’s attention lingers, where characters and communities are pushed to their limits in uncomfortable and uncanny situations ... Divided into four sections with a total of thirty seven stories, Gutshot is most interesting not as the sum of its parts, but rather as a frenetic experiment in imagination, in planting the seeds of a narrative only to crush whatever grows. Gray is especially daring as she takes on allegorical-seeming premises only to reject the notion of a moral ... Gutshot finds Gray at her most vicious and powerful. In these stories, Gray’s characters generate their own chaos; not only do their attempts at good manners fail, they typically crash and burn, devolving into scenes of cathartic violence or complete dissolution of social norms.
In this smart, irreverent collection, Gray’s language growls, hungrily; her characters express yearnings that can’t be satisfied through ordinary human interaction ... Gutshot’s careful awareness of physicality also shows in the tenderness of its characters ... Gray writes with wit; much of the pleasure of reading her surreal stories is found in their clever images ... Amelia Gray’s grotesques furnish a view of humanity that is dark and filled with a desire to live. Gray challenges us to decide whether to live is to burn or to imprison, to feed or to cut. These are characters whose wants overtake even their best intentions. In allowing them the freedom to abuse each other, Gray leaves her reader with an impression of humanity that is gritty, bleeding, and spent.
The minute details of life are memorably rendered in surreal and sometimes grotesque ways ... Many of the stories in this collection are set in a formerly familiar corner of the world that’s been turned on its head ... Gray combines those aspects of Threats with the concise and sometimes-absurdist tendencies that characterized her earlier collections ... The best of Gray’s stories find that balance between devastation and humor and navigate an uneasy territory with agility; in this book, there are many that reach that mark.
Strange, fable-like, and physical, Gray’s (Threats) stories are driven by uncanny forces and set in organic yet unnatural worlds ... The recurrence of a phenomenological experience of time flows through the stories, along with a materialist understanding that pushes in on human perception ... black humor brushes up against abject tragedy, desperation and abuse, longing loneliness, and even hopeful peace. Gray dazzlingly renders the wide array of human experience in these potent, haunting stories.