While everyone who visits or writes for this site enjoys horror as much as the next; we all enjoy the genre because it is an escape from reality. But what if the horrors weren’t an escape? What if the terrible things in the stories we read were real? What if they happened to an actual person, and that person suffered more than anyone should have to? Tales of Woe by John Reed is an impressive combination of investigative journalism and real life horror.
Reed collected dozens of true stories of human misery and despair, whittled it down to twenty five, and rounded up eleven artists to help him illustrate the book. The entire focus of the novel can be summed up in three words: sin, suffering, redemption. Reed argues that while these ideas are omnipresent in world culture, while everyone wants to hope and believe that things happen for a reason, sometimes they just don’t. Terrible things happen to people and there is no reason behind it. The stories range from disgusting to depressing to downright awful.
The most striking thing about the book is the design. The art is full color, and due to the variety of artists, has an amazing range of style and substance. Some of the works look almost like Mad magazine drawings, some of them look like they were air brushed onto the page, but all of them fit in beautifully. The other unique part of the book is the fact that all the pages are black with white ink over them. It’s a fantastic way to visually sum up the contents of the book, and as you read the book you understand just how much blackness envelops not only the people in the stories, but life in general.
The content of the stories is, well, horrible. Murder, rape, death, destruction, child abuse, animal abuse, car accidents, and Sarah Palin. Some of the stories were just morbidly fascinating, while others truly were difficult to read through. A giant inflatable sculpture flying away only to crush onlookers? That’s fascinating. A child who slowly starves to death as his drug addict mother lies dead on the couch? That is a bit different, and even typing those words leaves a sour taste in my mouth. These stories are not for those of weak stomach or faint heart, and these are not typical horror stories. Give me Stephen King any day of the week. At least with King you know good will triumph over evil, and that reason does exist, along with purpose and hope. Reality is harsh and cruel.
As depressing and disturbing as the book is, I do recommend it for a couple reasons. The art alone is incredible and makes the book anice addition to any collection. The other reason is that the book wakes you up like a punch to the gut. The time we all spend bitching about “first world problems” seems pathetic when compared to the experiences in these stories, and the book gave me a new appreciation of my own life. After reading it, paying bills and going to work seemed just a little bit better, a little bit brighter. For any fans of true horror stories, or for the people who stop to stare at car accidents as they drive by, this book is for you.