In her rousing introduction to Hailey Piper’s latest short story collection, ‘Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy’, Laurel Hightower uses four words that summarise the experience of reading these stories, or Piper’s work in general, more completely than this review could hope to do, and it was a line that stuck with me, both while reading the book, and when I was reflecting on what I’d read long after I’d finished.

“Hailey thinks around corners”

It’s both beautifully succinct and incredibly apt, because it really gets across how imaginative and unpredictable her fiction is. There is no guessing where a story is going, or what kind of tale she has in store for us next. Trying to predict, or relate the reading experience to any other, is folly. Hailey Piper is always ten steps ahead of the reader, laying breadcrumbs to guide you into seemingly familiar territory, only to pull back the curtain, for you to realise you’re in completely over your head. I can honestly say I had no idea what to expect throughout any of the collections eighteen shorts, but it was thrilling being taken along for the ride. 

The collection is tied together with common themes (Acceptance, identity, gender, sexuality) and most have strong elements of cosmic or body horror. Outside of that, it’s difficult to define Piper’s oeuvre because her work is so uniquely hers that it defies comparison, but think ‘Cronerberg-ian Alice in Wonderland’ and you may get a broad sense of what to expect. One thing that is consistent throughout is a rampant creativity that will hook you in each and every time, and leave you amazed at how one person can dream up so many inspired and inventive creations so completely unlike anything else you’ve read before.

The stories of offer are a varied bunch in terms of tone and genre, with some being short, fun tales (‘Demons of a Particular Taste’, ‘Jormungandr’s Dance’) which can be enjoyed both as blackly comedic cautionary tales, or something deeper should you want to dig into what the piece is saying. Some stories are more abstract and thematic (‘Feast for Small Pieces’ ‘We All Scream’) which eschew traditional narrative for something more visual and thought-provoking. Many stories lean into fantasy (‘Elf-Bride’, ‘Candyland’) or fable (‘Forgive the Adoring Beast’) but there is always an unerring undercurrent of horror permeating every tale and the reader is thrown mercilessly between stories of existential dread, jarring violence, and disconcerting suggestions of deeper horrors that are all the more memorable for being largely left unsaid. 

Of all the eighteen stories on offer, I think my favourite was the one saved for last. It’s difficult for me to express my experience of reading ‘Recitation of the First Feeding’ because there is so much going on in the story, and so many layers to it, that it’s one that has had an impact on me and one I’ve found myself thinking back to many times since finishing it. It is wildly inventive, a grotesque fantasy that reads like a Clive Barker take on the Mad Hatters Tea Party, but the heart of the story isn’t what happens, but the events that led us there, and the things that go unsaid, permeating the tale nonetheless. I found it intensely gripping at first, as we’re swept away in vivid imagery and heightened reality, but the more I reflect on it, the more I’ve found it to be ultimately quite a sad, melancholic story. It is certainly one that will stay with me, and one I’ll no doubt revisit again.  

‘Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy’ is a phenomenal collection, a bold proclamation cementing Hailey Piper as one of the most original and innovative horror writers working today. It is a book that demands to be savoured and read, and re-read, so you can fully appreciate the layers at work. An absolute must-read.   5 Stars

Richard Martin

Richard Martin


Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books. 

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