BOOK REVIEW: The Chicken (or 3 Weird Tales)
– By Dave Dubrow
The Chicken (or 3 Weird Tales) by Hildred Rex is a short anthology of skillfully-written tales that yank the literary specters of Poe and Machen, kicking and shrieking, into the 21st century to show us what still works…and what doesn’t. All three stories feature the first-person perspective, and Rex does a masterful job of changing his style according to the narrator in each one. The anthology’s weakness lies in its familiarity: there are few surprises to be had between the extraordinary illustrations and exacting characterization.
The first story, A Slinking Agent of the Devil (at 3AM), transports the reader to the heat and sweat and tumult of post-World War One New Orleans, when only jazz could keep the dreaded serial murderer the Axman at bay. Rex doesn’t shy away from the lingo, mores, or general attitude of the time, which puts him head and shoulders above those writers who either sanitize the era’s casual racism to appeal to a broader, virgin-eared audience, or exaggerate it to establish the writer’s own moral bona-fides. Gory and gritty if not entirely suspenseful, it’s a fun story.
But the Cat Came Back features the most frightening feline to grace the digital page since Poe’s The Black Cat. This story features a number of themes: the writer’s journey (of isolation), the consequences of a relationship gone terribly bad in a way that makes the Michael Douglas film The War of the Roses look like Endless Love, and exorcism (of a sort). If you own a cat, you’ll never look at little Snookums quite the same way after reading this.
Schisma, lacking the somewhat affected tone of the narrators of the previous stories, is the most disturbing in the anthology. Some people handle breakups well, others not so much. It also hilariously illustrates how one man’s pedestal-placed queen can be another man’s tiresome bore, and when the romance is gone, what’s left?
I don’t know why this anthology’s called The Chicken, but it somehow fits. Especially with the glaring illustration of poultry on the cover. Blackened, roasted, or fried, this is definitely a chicken dish that horror fans will want to eat. Edgar Allan Poe may be dead, but his unquiet spirit lives on in Hildred Rex.