Monday, 9 May 2011


The lurid retro cover of three cowl-clad spectres surrounding a woman they have swathed in rope before a dominating pair of White Zombie-style eyes ensured this 2004 American release acquired its liberation from among the spines of a local charity bookshop.
  Far from being obscure, it seems U.S. cult magazine McSweeney’s has attracted the biggest names in fantasy fiction in recent years, of which this anthology is one of several.
  Yet, it is likely these stories comprise a mix of entries first considered, then dropped, from short story collections, with others, submitted freelance, turned down by their publishers.  Does this mean they are second rate?
I would say not, though the quality can be uneven.
  The welcome inclusion of talented unknowns and lesser knowns’ certainly give the bigger names a run for their money.  Aylet Waldman’s ‘Minnow’ is stunning in its original take on a couple who have lost their child, only for the mother to believe she hears it still on a neighbour’s monitor.  Steve Erickson’s ‘Zeroville’ takes film obsession to an OCD degree, while Heidi Julavits’s ‘The Miniaturist’ traps us in a strange house with a strange woman who silently invokes an ever-repeating spell.
  Of the bigger names, Margaret Atwood surprises, opening this collection with a neat, understated vampire tale, (‘Lusus Naturae’).  Poppy Z. Brite’s ‘The Devil of Delery Street’ updates the setting and mood music of Catholic guilt, while Joyce Carol Oates’ contribution is surprisingly traditional in a Poe-inspired tale of descending madness spawned of isolation in ‘The Fabled Light-House of Vina Del Mar.’
  Almost inevitably, the longest entry is Stephen King’s (‘Lisey and The Madman’), bearing his usual, strung out emphasis on dull minutiae, quickly sapping the attention.  While China Mieville’s ‘Reports of Certain Events in London’ is certainly original with its unresolved, cut n’ paste mock-up, its very inconclusiveness left me cold.
    Also available from McSweeney’s– if you look hard enough – are their Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans, Quarterly Concern and The Believers.  Surely worth checking out for the titles alone.
  At the back of this one you will see that its sales benefit ‘a writing lab disguised as a pirate-supply store, dedicated to helping students with their writing skills.’  I suppose the charity shop I purchased this copy from can at least salve my conscience as the second-best option.

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