Thursday, July 1, 2010

More Stories

I love reading short stories. For many years I kept track of how many stories I read and it was usually over 200 a year. Not a bad total when you factor in the novels and comic books read during each year as well. As fans of short stories know, anthologies are a good way to discover new writers to follow and to find new stories from old favorites. When I heard that Neil Gaiman, one of my very favorites, and Al Sarrantonio were editing a new collection of stories called, well, Stories, I was ready to read it.

Most of the writers in Stories are high-profile and well-known - your Joyce Carol Oates and Lawrence Block and Jeffrey Deaver and Walter Mosely. The ones who aren't well-known to everyone are usually well-known in their genre, Michael Swanwick and Jeffrey Ford, for instance. It's a star-studded cast, for sure. Like all anthologies, though, there are stories to love and stories to not love so much.

Roddy Doyle starts off the collection with "Blood," which is a perfect opener. His normal 41 year-old man starts craving blood and doesn't know why. The story tracks what he does and how he deals with his feelings about that fact. At the end, he has to admit it to his wife and it's a great scene to close out the story. I've never read any Doyle other than random stories in anthologies like this one and I'll have to remedy that fact.

The collection also ends very well with Joe Hill's "The Devil on the Staircase." Not only is it a chilling tale of murder and hell but it plays with typography- most paragraphs resemble the titular staircase as the main traverses up and down the 800 plus stairs on the mountain where he lives. I love that type of play in literature when it's integral to the story.

I also want to mention "A Life In Fictions" by Kat Howard. Who is Kat Howard, you ask? Well, she's the throw-in amongst all the big names - this is her first published story. Let me tell you, she more than holds her own. It's a very short story about a woman who keeps getting written into fiction by the writer who loves her. It's a smart idea and it plays out perfectly. I will definitely be on the lookout for more of her work.

I could go on and on about each story I loved but instead I'll quickly mention a few more. Jeffrey Ford turns in a creepy and melancholy romance in "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." Lawrence Block delivers a sensationally skin-crawling "Catch and Release," making your opinion of the main character change over the course of it. Stewart O'Nan delivers a quiet yet powerful tale of a woman searching for a dead girl she has no connection with in "Land of the Lost." Michael Swanwick plays with the idea of fiction and what it means for the characters contained within that fiction in "Goblin Lake." Finally, Kurt Andersen's "Human Intelligence" takes the old SF idea of aliens observing the planet out for a pleasing whirl.

Obviously, there were stories I didn't like but I'd rather not dwell on those. Instead, I'd like to savor the storytelling on display in this worthwhile collection.

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