Sonia Kilvington’s Nightmare Asylum and Other Deadly Delights (Close to the Bone publishing) is a creepy beast of a book – all short stories, some flash length, every one of them delving deeeeeep into the characters’ psyches. And what dark, twisted and sometimes sad minds they are. Kilvington has really dug into motivation, though sometimes I’m not sure it’s motivation but some trauma which carries characters onto the rocks against any wishes they ever had.
That sense of uncertainty pulls and pushes until disaster strikes. Even when it turns out for the best, there’s that restlessness which means the character can’t quaff a nifty glass of champagne and enjoy the rest of their lives. They’ve got a shoulder to constantly look over to see what else is on their tail.
It’s unsettling. I’m not the fastest reader, but this book slowed me down more than usual. I had to put it down for a couple of days because you have to shake the cold from your spine before you start again. For example, Winter Baby. Told in a way that the loss of the character’s baby doesn’t just make you feel sympathy, it settles in your bones as if the loss is yours. The transition from family bliss to the rotten collapse of your world, where you’re forgotten along with the child, is something that I know will pop into my mind any moment in the future, and I’d guess the same for anyone whether you have kids or not. Beautiful and vile at the same time.
Cry Baby further explores the strangeness of some men, here a mother’s boy who pines for his mum so much that he’s triggered by Sylvie, a woman he sees in a bar wearing the kind of dress his parent wore when in his formative years. He sizes the woman up, calculates his plan, and then preys on her weakness, but his obsession is not quite what you’d feared, though it’s totally off-the-wall. Crackers, and totally, weirdly entertaining. Strange men wanting a sense of control from uncontrollable females runs through a lot of the book. Soulmate, though more straightforward than Cry Baby is still wary of the man with a crooked view of women. In this one, the protagonist’s computer is hacked when an online lover she’s never physically met becomes mad that she didn’t answer her quickly enough. What follows is a dash to save her job, her savings, and her life.
The finest example of the rogue male is Perfect Love, about a male robot programmed to love. The droid gains a semblance of sentience, but his programming is strong (coded by a male?) and when the love of his owner doesn’t match his concept of the emotion you can imagine how pear-shaped it all goes. Reminded me of that strange film, Ex Machina (Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander), but instead of the female robot wanting to escape, here the male robot wants to latch onto its love, with overbearing consequences.
It’s not all dodgy fellas. There’s sibling jealousy, horrible women, and a whole bunch of Gothic madness to set you up for a cracking read. Good stuff.
You can find Sonia at her blog, Sonia Kilvington, Writer.