In his introduction to editor Michael Bailey’s Chiral Mad, an anthology of psychological horror, Thomas Monteleone tries his best to explain the book’s theme by defining “chiral” as a chemical term describing asymmetric molecules.
It’s possible to finish this enjoyable and often-brilliant short story anthology with no clear understanding of its title or theme except for a vague sense that you’re dealing with realities much like our own but composed of molecules that are just a tick lacking in symmetry. Life as we know it is just a bit … askew.
For instance, there’s R.B. Payne’s “Cubicle Farm,” wherein a poor wretch of a call center drudge has one of those days at work, but it’s without apparent end.
In Monica J. O’Rourke’s deceptively simple “Five Adjectives,” a second-grader reveals a little more than even she thinks she knows about the character of her father when asked to write a 350-word essay.
And in Gary McMahon’s “Some Pictures in an Album,” the ultimate tale of paranoid creepiness, a man sees himself as a child in a collection of family photographs of which he has no memory. In many of the shots, he’s standing in the vicinity of a mysterious door he doesn’t recall ever having seen before.
Chiral Mad’s list of contributors includes such horror A-listers as Jack Ketchum, Gary Braunbeck, Gord Rollo and Jeff Strand.
Rollo’s “Lost in a Field of Paper Flowers” has one of the book’s best punch-in-the-gut closing lines. The story is of a little boy caught precipitously between two spheres of existence and a gentle old lady who folds paper flowers on his behalf. You have to be there.
Strand’s “A Flawed Fantasy” is the most darkly humorous tale you’ll read this year about the sexual fantasy of a woman met in a bar to kill a hooker. Hard to say how it fits the anthology’s generously encompassing theme, but we’re talking quality snuff literature here.
The surrealism of a handful of these stories overpowers any semblance of plot in much the way that the plotline of last night’s dream starts to crumble in the retelling, but they’re in the minority. Every contribution is well written and literate, most are highly compelling, and each is constructed with an entire test tube full of asymmetric molecules.