I am not a fan of Clive Barker the Novelist . I'll read his novels from time to time, but I try to stay away from his fan's favorites. His books are some of the most overwritten literature I've stumbled upon. But the readers who enjoy him seem to like that aspect of his work. He reminds me of a present day Lovecraft without all the fish people, squid-faced gods, and bigotry. Meaning, I like the idea of Barker's work more than the execution. That being said, I am a fan of Clive Barker the Short Story Author. He does big ideas and subtle horrors in small packages very well. This collection is a perfect example of that. Is it any wonder that the movies of his that have worked have been based on his short fiction and novellas instead of his novels? Probably not.
Side note: I want a The Thief of Always movie, please and thank you.
"The Books of Blood" is a rad way to start this collection. The idea that these stories were originally written on someone's flesh is an awesome concept. One of those once-in-a-lifetime ideas. I dig it. I only give it four stars instead of five because it doesn't work as a story. Nice idea, but it's more a creative introduction than it is a story. Four stars.
"The Midnight Meat Train" is terrific. Even the film is great. One of the best (in my opinion) adaptations of Barker's work that I've seen. Stylistic and horrifying. But what I like the most about this story is how it ends. Barker always goes the road less traveled, and instead of writing your average serial killer fair, he gives us a fictional origin story for New York. Five stars.
"The Yattering and Jack" is one of the stories I remember the most in this collection. I read this one almost twenty years ago, and the events of this tale are still clear in my mind. I almost didn't listen to it because they happenings remain so fresh, like wriggling fishies swimming around in my brain bucket. I'm glad I reread, though, because I think I liked it even more the second time around. One of my all-time favorite short stories. Five stars.
"Pig Blood Blues" is a story whose title I cannot say without stammering. I don't know what it is about that three-word title, but it twists my tongue into knots. Anyway, I like this story because I like stories about creepy kids. The narration made Lacey all the more creepy. Funnily enough, the pig never bothered me. Four stars.
"Sex, Death and Starshine" is my least favorite story in the collection. It's good, but that opening is everything I hate about Barker's long fiction. He drones on and on about shit that doesn't matter before getting to the actual plot. The next story suffered the same problems, but the payoff is much better. Three stars.
"In the Hills, the Cities" is simply fucking cool. Weird and radical. I will say nothing of this story other than I loved it. Also, I don't think I read this one in when I originally went through this collection. I can't imagine why I skipped it. I'm usually obsessive when it comes to reading every story in a collection in first-to-last order. Anyfuck, I dug the hell out of this story. My second favorite after "The Yattering and Jack". Five stars.
In summation: If you haven't read Barker, this is a good place to start. The guy's novels aren't for me, but he can write the fuck out of a short story. Definitely recommended.
Final Judgment: Beautiful horrors.