I rarely offer updates while in the midst of a book. But since this book is a collection of short stories I’m not as concerned about giving away anything. Especially since they are from a variety of authors. In the brief history of this blog I think I’ve only blogged about short story collections from a singular author. There was the collection by Ben Loory Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day that was like a homage to Ray Bradbury. And there’s Ray Bradbury himself. And I’m not sure if I blogged about The Kissing List by Stephanie Reents but if I haven’t I guess I should get to that.
I didn’t really like anthologies until my re-entry into higher education. The Best American Short Stories became required textbooks and I discovered the joy that is reading small blurbs from a variety of authors. While on my mini-vacation I read The Best American Non-Required Reading 2012 and enjoyed it very much.
This collection Strange and Fantastic Stories edited by Joseph A. Margolies (a veritable book Titan from a bygone age) is exactly what the title says, strange and fantastic. The preface is a wordy homage to this man who made spooky literature a thing. Mr. Christopher Morley spends about as much time deprecating himself as a writer as he does lauding Mr. Margolies’ skill in creating a well-balanced, nuanced, spooky anthology. I read the introduction during one of our visits to the park to read. It was chilly. I wasn’t quite following Morley’s prose… it felt antiquated and cumbersome. The anthology was published in 1946. After, I gather, Margolies died. So, this was his final work.
I just read Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy and I don’t know how I feel about it, yet, so I decided to pick up this anthology again… see if I could make some more headway in it’s dense storytelling. As I made my way through the short stories I found myself lamenting that I didn’t better track the books I read as a teenager. I’m quite confident I read a collection of science fiction short stories when I was about 13 that was amazing. Stories that bent the future and turned out to be a little more prophetic than the writers may have initially intended. This collection of Strange and Fantastic isn’t similar in content, but in feel.
Any writer hopes that their words will outlast them, speak for them from the grave, carry a universal truth into an unknown future and afford them more presence in this alien, inevitable time. These writers paraded before me in alphabetical order (by surname) seem to be desperately grasping for permanence. Mr. Beerbohm actually goes so far as to create a reality in which an author (Enoch Soames) bargains with The Devil to visit the reading room of the Victoria and Albert Museum in the summer of 1997 (oh, 1997, how futuristic, I chuckled, and then contemplated: 100 years hence some squirrelly post-adolescent may be derisively reviewing a short story of mine, lost and forgotten in a collection of bizarre stories about a generation of self-important neurotics… maybe not, maybe they’ll have evolved past that). Enoch Soames arrives in the reading room to discover that he is the figment of Beerbohm’s imagination, a character in a story, and that the English language has devolved into some terribly phonetic version of illiteracy (the horror!).
The inside panel of the jacket cover says, “Mr. Margolies has brewed a potion that contains not only the best elements of mystery and terror but, in addition, exceptional literary quality. The result is a balanced and unusually large anthology that will give you, your family, and your friends a wide and satisfying variety of thrills.” It’s happening, friends… I keep experiencing this “variety of thrills” and wondering if I could ever write something truly creepy. Karen Russell did a pretty good job of it, though I wasn’t a huge fan of Swamplandia! but the story that keeps coming to mind is The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. If you’ve taken a college literature course you’ve been forced to read it, I’m sure. It is terrifying.
I’m not a fan of the scary. I refuse to watch scary movies… but apparently I like it in literary form. Though after I finish this collection I may stay away from it for awhile.