by J. Ashley-Smith

Published by Meerkat Press, June 6, 2023

Review by Samantha Hawkins

Buy the book HERE


"And the vastness of that gulf between our private shame and the face we show the world is the measure of our sorrow."

J. Ashley-Smith, a Shirley Jackson Award-winning author, presents to you his newest collection of dark speculative fiction. Taking place in the vast and spectacular landscape of Australia, you'll find this collection to be quite poignant, where loss, love, and family are all common themes.

Ashley leads you slowly through these weird and vividly surreal stories, allowing the reader to form their own opinions. This quiet type of horror isn't always for me, but the writing is heartbreakingly lyrical, creating the perfect atmosphere for the stories that await you. In many ways, this collection reminded me of two books I read last year: The Black Farm by Elias Witherow and Come Forth in Thaw by Jayson Robert Ducharme. These two books easily assert the same profound and despairing emotions you'll feel while reading A Measure of Sorrow.

No character is safe in these stories. Everyone will experience a loss that will create a hollow hole in their heart. From the family trying to enjoy a simple picnic, to the black reef that holds incredible secrets, all the way to the Garden of Eden, there's a story inside for everyone, guaranteed. I also found that reading as an American versus a local of the Australian outback, these stories offered a more frightening experience. What could be more terrifying than to encounter loss in land you've never experienced?

I felt myself becoming angry, anxious, and even confused at times while reading this collection. Each story is such a variation from the next, causing me to experience a rollercoaster of emotions. While not all these tales are grounded in reality, the emotions you feel are. The stories "Old Growth" and "The Moth Tapes" harbor emotions that only a parent can truly feel, but the stories are not laced with any world that we might know.

"The Whatnot Shop" is my favorite story. I found it thought-provoking, unsettling, and particularly cosmic in the atmosphere. The sadness that swept over me as I reached the end was harsh. Just imagining such a unique and brilliant place disappearing as fast as it arrived, possessing so many secrets left untold, was crushing.

"Our Last Meal" is a story that takes you on a journey through a past relationship that ends with disastrous effects. Have you ever found yourself in a lovelorn position? Unrequited love at your heels? This will be a story you relate to. Written with the most beautiful of prose, you'll forget this is a horror story by the time you reach its end.

"The Face God Gave" is written in a way that provides such vast possibilities. When it begins, you're expecting one ending, one outcome. In just a few pages, the author transports you to a scene unlike any other inside this collection. I'm still not quite sure how I feel about this story. In many ways, it's almost unrealistic, but isn't it most horror that way? The imagery still tugs quietly at the corner of my mind.

For any person who has or is experiencing sorrow, this collection will speak absolute volumes to you. I would also recommend this collection for anyone who enjoys the quiet and unsettling horror of dark speculative fiction.