Editorial Review: The Art of Anatomy by Gary Power

Editorial Review: The Art of Anatomy by Gary Power

The Art of Anatomy, by Gary Power, introduces a dark traveling carnival stopping in a small town. The town and the carnival are all full of secrets, large and small, mystical and mundane, all set to collide in the few days the carnival is in town.

The whole idea of a traveling show, with carnies on the fringes of society and freaks on display, is ripe for horror fiction. Here, it’s used to shock and disquiet. The Art of Anatomy constantly plays with the idea of disfigurement, whether that’s the expression of the evil within a person or a tragic joke played on an innocent person. There is a real skill with language here, creating an ominous feel throughout the novella, without heavy-handed descriptions.

The story introduces several distinct characters in the small town, which can feel a bit disjointed in the beginning. Just as I was invested in one person’s situation, the narrative moves on and picks up with another character or another experience. But the payoff as the story unfolds towards the end of the novel is worth all the occasionally frustrating transitions and the slightly awkward framing story.

The book plays with the difference between the inside and the outside of a person, between our internal lives and what we show to others. The Art of Anatomy highlights this very human disconnect between a person’s true feelings and their external appearance, again and again. Characters pretend to be family men while plotting dark deeds, or characters who seem frightening actually dispense justice to evil-doers. At one point, a character appears covered with tattoos of every experience of her life, making the invisible, visible.

In one scene, a fortune-telling teenager explains she’s actually a cranky old man, trapped in a pretty girl’s body, but her fortune-telling skills are real. Later, this is explained away a young girl doing an accent for laughs… but, with all the dark transformations of this carnival, was that really what happened? Which story should we trust? And even if that particular part of the carnival is explained away, there are so many other twisted exhibits and dark sights with no rational explanation… This is just one of the times the author leads us to doubt our senses and to question what we see.

There are plenty of body-horror scenes and plenty of violence for those looking for straight horror fiction, but what actually stood out was the daily horror just beneath the surface of the small town. The author constantly points to the darkness just below everyday life, asking how well the citizens of Snake Falls know their neighbors, or even how well a wife knows her husband. And the carnival brings this everyday darkness into the light but also brings dark justice to the casual rapists and murderers found in the village.

Overall, this is a gritty, dark story of how the little town of Snake Falls is changed forever through the carnival’s visit. There is a grim justice in some of the twists here, even the gruesome ones, with an ultimately hopeful conclusion for some.