Review of Chilling Tales, edited by Michael Kelly

Chilling Tales: Evil I Did Dwell -- Lewd Did I LiveChilling Tales: Evil I Did Dwell — Lewd Did I Live by Michael Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review appeared in the NYRSF in Jauary 2012.

Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd I Did Live

Edited by Michael Kelly

Trade Paperback

ISBN: 978-1-894063-52-4


224 pages

Review by Ursula Pflug

684 words

Many Canadian readers of horror and the supernatural turn to the U.S.’s mega-selling authors such as Stephen King, his son Joe Hill, or Peter Straub. Those writers are all superb craftsmen, but we have some fiercely good talent right here at home including those authors represented in Chilling Tales.

In Sandra Kasturi’s “Foxford,” protagonist Eleanor is a likeable scholar, an introspective sort who opens her home to relatives from across the Big Pond who impinge not just upon her hospitality but her psyche, going out of their way to be derisive in many little ways that add up to making her feel small. Frankie and Bill are the kind of folks you shouldn’t give the time of day and probably wouldn’t, if you weren’t related to them. Eleanor turns into a Welsh fox, the big grey magical kind, and, together with her brethren, pursues the guilty parties.

Does the fox represent the no nonsense toughness Eleanor needs to develop to keep herself safe from the mean girls of this world and their spouses? She’s got boundary issues, clearly. But psychoanalyzing this story or any other in Chilling Tales is by no means necessary. We like Eleanor and the artfully drawn Oxford, with its cobblestones and pubs and train stations, without even once thinking about what the foxes mean. Still, much of the darkness in award winning editor Michael Kelly’s picks for his new anthology comes from this nebulous, murky area in human relationships. Why do we cross boundaries and do petty or mean or outright awful things to other folks, or conversely, allow them to be done to us? At its best horror fiction examines these most important of questions and makes some effort to shed light even while it entertains.

Barbara Roden’s chillingly Kafkaesque “404” is about office workers pushed into smaller and smaller psychological cubicles by corporate pressures. An ever-escalating series of background checks succeeds in creating fear in employees Wilson and Armstrong. Conspiracy theory lurks in the background of this tale that frightens precisely because it contains neither blood nor ghosts, rather positing the modern workplace as a source of primal unease.

Leah Bobet’s “Stay” asks, as most of these stories do in one way or another, what makes us human or not. In the north, isolation is a constant pressure and folks look after each other as a matter of course; there aren’t enough of them to do otherwise, and the weather’s a constant, fierce challenger. The truck driver who has gone wendigo is brought back into the fold, begged to stay human by Cora, reluctant healer/waitress in the hamlet of Sunrise.

Gemma Files’s “The Shrines” is a mother/son tale, probing the complexities of that relationship through deft descriptions of son Darrow’s sinister found-art shrines built on Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit. His mother asks what, or whom, they are actually calling. Which spirits, perhaps more real than imagined, do we call upon when we invent new religions? What happens when our prayers are unexpectedly answered and not quite in the way we’d hoped?

Suzanne Church’s “The Needle’s Eye” is a near-future science fictional plague tale. A competent medical procedural, its grossout quotient is directly linked to Church’s descriptions of the ooze and ick of a new plague; its humanity stems from the powerful love between its Médecins Sans Frontières protagonists.

David Nickle’s “Looker” is a moody thing about a fluidly bordered group of young people partying in a beach house, including the peculiar Lucy, who sees the world through different eyes than most, to say the least.

Last year, Edge published Evolve, an anthology by Canada’s vampire queen Nancy Kilpatrick, that became super-successful. It’s a rare thing when a short story collection attains best seller status, and my bet is Edge is hoping for another with Chilling Tales. It’s not implausible as each story in this anthology is of high quality, and it exposes the reader to a variety of authors, giving us the opportunity to hunt down our favorites’ other works.

Ursula Pflug’s new book, Harvesting the Moon, is forthcoming from Britain’s PS Publishing.

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