Stories for the Mad
Volume One Various authors

Book review by Elly Gibson

Stories for the Mad is the debut short fiction anthology from Moran Press, based just outside Boston USA. It contains 11 carefully selected short stories from contemporary writers in the US and UK, one each from celebrated short story writers Edgar Allen Poe and Franz Kafka – who inspired the collection – and one from the editor Stephen Moran.

Each of the stories in this new tome are unique and different, but their common thread is ‘characters trying to navigate a nightmarish world filled with absurdity and dread’. This is perhaps, given the events of 2020 thus far, something we can all relate to more now than ever.

Some of the characters in the compilation were more real and memorable than others to me. The story of Breezy, a young man leaving prison hoping to make a better life for himself now he has his freedom, is arguably one of the more conventional accounts.

But even in the few short pages the reader has before the story draws to its inevitable conclusion, you gain a genuine insight into his psyche and I shared his hopes and dreams – and subsequent disappointment – with him.

I was also drawn to Josh, a young boy who is struggling academically at school. His parents attend a meeting with his teachers and his Dad becomes increasingly frustrated by his son’s lack of progress under their guardianship.

Josh is evidently a sweet boy, but the tension between the adults ratchets up and the Tarantino-style ending to the story is as brutal as it is unpredictable. And leaves the reader with plenty to reflect on afterwards.

There are some great side parts in the collection as well. The ‘400-year-old’ Korean shopworker quietly looking on while two friends come to blows when the bad blood between them finally surfaces – finding increasingly dramatic ways to attack each other with the shop’s stock and furnishings – is a real favourite. This story is particularly visual and I’d love to see it on film. 

In this raw cacophony of death, murder, anger and pain, we could all do with a little hope

One of the final tales in the book is by Hastings poet and writer (and HIP Literature editor) Pete Donohue. His story ‘moniker’ follows an Irish boy whose dysfunctional family travel across the sea to start a new life. It’s a pretty bleak account of a teenage geographical misfit who encounters abuse, violence, ridicule and bullying.

But in spite of its inherent darkness – and the Oedipal kind of ending – it’s one of the few stories in the book that contain hope. I’m sure that’s why editor Stephen Moran placed this towards the end of the book. Because while the rest of the collection is an intriguing but at times raw cacophony of death, murder, anger and pain, in this Pandora’s Box of life, at the end of the day, we could all do with a little hope.

I think writing a short story is a real art form. How can you convey characterisation, suspense, plot and so on in just a few pages? Not a word can be wasted. And for the most part I think the writers in this compilation have achieved that.

I’ll be honest that not all the stories in the collection appealed to me, but I’m thankful the editor took me out of my comfort zone and gave me a chance to dip into different writing styles from those I normally read.

So in short, Stories for the Mad is an entertaining and original collection of windows into darker aspects of the human condition, featuring varying degrees of madness. Is the reader mad to engage with them? Well, who wants to be sane anyway?

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