Skip to content

R.I.P. Short Stories, Rnd 2

September 28, 2009

rip4I woke up at 3:30 a.m. today. (For the record, I fell asleep at 4 p.m. yesterday, so I’m not exactly being deprived of sleep.) It was pitch black outside, and rather chilly, so I made my tea, toasted some GF rice bread, and settled down to catch up with my favourite blogs.

Then, at 4, I heard it. The coyotes began howling, screams so high pitched that when I first moved here and heard them, I thought a toddler was being tortured. The cat jumped out of his nap, every bit of him alert from his pointed ears to twitching tail. I paused from reading blogs. Then, one coyote howled much closer than the others; he must have gotten lost. The cat decided to run to the back of the house for safety, and I decided this was the perfect time to read some short stories for the R.I.P. IV challenge. So I got out the anthology I’ve been exploring, Poe’s Children ed. by Peter Straub, and then remembered that it’s Monday, when I usually review short stories as part of John Mutford’s Short Story Mondays!

Unfortunately, I’m not sure Straub and I agree on what horror stories should be like. I’m finding more stories that I dislike, or that simply don’t move me, than ones that I love. That being said, the ones that I love I really really love so I shall probably read the whole book. The first three stories I discuss I didn’t like very much, but the last two I loved, so feel free to skip to them (“Louise’s Ghost” and “The Sadness of Details”)! :)

mjohnharrison“The Great God Pan” by M. John Harrison
This one came close to being great. The guy narrator has these two friends, Lucas and Ann, who used to be married. Here’s how the story opens:

Ann took drugs to manage her epilepsy. They often made her depressed and difficult to deal with; and Lucas, who was nervous himself, never knew what to do. After their divorce he relied increasingly on me as a go-between. “I don’t like the sound of her voice,” he would tell me. “You try her.” The drugs gave her a screaming, false-sounding laugh that went on and on.

 They’ve all known each other for a long time, since they were in college, and there are hints that something happened back then that made Ann the way she is now. But in the end, Harrison just doesn’t give enough information. You know me-I’m all about authors who trust the readers to put it together (hence my adoration of Ishiguro). But that type of writing takes a lot of skill-to drop just enough hints to get at what’s behind the narrative. And I think the author has to know what he’s hinting at…I’m not sure Harrison knew what had happened. So in the end, I just felt unsatisfied. However, there was enough potential that I want to try out a few more of his stories!

ramseycampbell “The Voice of the Beach” by Ramsey Campbell
This story has a first-person, somewhat unreliable narrator who lives on a bungalow on the beach quite peacefully. But when a friend Neal comes to visit, he becomes obsessed with the beach, which in turn seems to be more dangerous by the hour. The problem I had with this one was the narrative voice. It was so high-strung, so dramatic about everything, that by the time the scary things started happening I didn’t really care. Rather than building up tension by slowly making things creepier, the whole story is told rather hysterically. Here’s how to starts:

I met Neal at the station.
Of course I can describe it, I only have to go up the road and look, but there is no need. That isn’t what I have to get out of me. It isn’t me, it’s out there, it can be described. I need all my energy for that, all my concentration, but perhaps it will help if I can remember before that, when everything looked manageable, expressible, familiar enough-when I could bear to out of the window.

See what I mean? When the narrator’s that overwrought discussing a train station, there’s not much more emotion possible when discussing murderous beaches. The story didn’t scare me-it just made me feel numb. Has anyone else read Campbell? Is his other writing different?

brianevenson“Body” by Brian Evenson
Honestly, I have no idea what’s even going on in this slim story. It started out with such promise:

I have been privately removed to St. Sebastian’s Correctional Facility and Haven for the Wayward, where they are fitting me for a new mind, and body too.

 But from there, I was simply confused. I don’t know if the narrator was insane before he got to the facility, or if it drove him insane. I don’t know why the ‘brothers’ at the facility wanted to drive him insane. I don’t know why there’s a strong correlation between women and shoes. It felt a tiny bit reminiscent of the reprogramming part of A Clockwork Orange, but at least I knew what was going on in that novel! I feel like this is the kind of short story that makes people not like the genre. But maybe I’m just not po-mo enough. ;) If you’re a fan of books like The House of Leaves(which I actually enjoyed back in college), you might want to check Evenson out.

kellylink“Louise’s Ghost” by Kelly Link
Finally, a short story that I loved! This is another long one, around 40 pages, and Link has the kind of style that I just love. I’m going to quote quite a bit of the beginning, so you can get a flavour for it:

Two women and a small child meet in a restaurant. The restaurant is nice-there are windows everywhere. The women have been here before. It’s all that light that makes the food good. The small child-a girl dressed all in green, hairy green sweater, green T-shirt, green corduroys, and dirty sneakers with green-black laces-sniffs. She’s a small child but she has a big nose. She might be smelling the food that people are eating. She might be smelling the warm light that lies on top of everything.
None of her greens match except of course they are all green.
“Louise,” one woman says to the other.
“Louise,” the other woman says.
They kiss.

 It’s definitely quirky writing, and as we learn more about both of the Louise’s (best friends since Girl Scout Camp) and Anna, the daughter of one of them, it’s obvious that the characters are quirky too. There is a ghost in the story, actually a couple of them, but this isn’t scary-horror. Similarly, I was always a bit off-balance, not sure if I could believe everything I was reading, but this isn’t a play-with-your-mind story. In the end, I think it’s just a story of being human, and relationships, and I’ll definitely be reading more of Kelly Link in the future!

jonathancarroll“The Sadness of Detail” by Jonathan Carroll
Carroll has been on my radar since reading a glowing review by Nancy Pearl of his novel The Ghost in Love. But I’d never actually read anything by him, so I was delighted to try him out in a short story! And I loved this one to pieces. :) First there’s Carroll’s descriptive style. The story opens with our narrator describing her favourite bakery:

I used to spend a lot of time at the Cafe Bremen. The coffee there is bitter and delicious, and the teal-blue velvet seats are as comfortable as old friends. The large windows greet the morning light like Herr Ritter, the waiter, greets anyone who comes in. You don’t have to order much: a cup of tea or a glass of win. The croissants come from the bakery next door and are delivered twice a day. Late in the evening, the cafe bakes its own speciality for the night-owl customers-“heavies,” a kind of sugar doughnut the size of a pocket watch. A wonderful treat is to go in there late on a winter night and have a warm plate full of them.
The Bremen is open nineteen hours a day. December twenty-fourth is the only day of the year it’s closed, but on Christmas it opens again, wearing red and green tablecloths, full of people in bright new sweaters or singles looking a little less lonely on a day when people should be home.
There are small, real pleasures in life-the latest issue of our favorite magazine, a fresh pack of cigarettes, the small of things baking. You can have all of them in that cafe; you can be happy there without any of them.

 It’s a rare author that can do that kind of detailed description while making it all sound essential. Even the teal-blue colour of the seats seems important. This is a pretty short story (10 pages), so it’s difficult to talk much about the plot without giving it all away. But let’s just say that the narrator meets an odd man in the cafe, one who offers her an even odder deal. The story felt perfectly complete, it didn’t have that odd hanging sensation I sometimes get at the end of a modern short story, and I want to read more of Carroll right away! :)

Do you read short stories? If so, do you enjoy anthologies or collections better? Any great anthologies you can recommend? (in any genre)

22 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2009 7:27 am

    I really haven’t read any shorts stories but these do sound good.

    I would have been really scared by the coyotes howling!

  2. September 28, 2009 7:32 am

    your stories are good!

  3. September 28, 2009 8:10 am

    I enjoy collections better because then if I like an author’s style I get more of it, not more of something else.

  4. September 28, 2009 8:11 am

    P.S. Am actually reading Alice Munro now and loving every story so far.

  5. September 28, 2009 8:15 am

    I actually read a collection of Kelly Link stories earlier this year (you can read my review here), and I believe I read Louise’s Ghost as part of that. I didn’t always get all of her stories (some were pretty out there and I wasn’t sure what she was getting at), but I do remember thinking that one was quite good. Her stories are actually available free through the collective commons, and when I posted my review, I included a link to the collection I read. So if you do want to read more Kelly Link, you can now do so for free! And everyone can get behind free, right?

  6. September 28, 2009 8:28 am

    Coyotes?! Darkness?! The LAST thing I would have wanted to do at such a time is read scary stories! You are a braver woman than I!

    I really enjoy short stories. Katherine Mansfield is the Queen of the art in my opinion (The Garden Party is her best collection) but Alice Munro comes very close. Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress!) is also excellent – her collection The Devastating Boys is marvellous. Also, Dorothy Whipple’s collection ‘The Closed Door and Other Stories’ published by Persephone, is superb. And of course Daphne Du Maurier can’t be beaten for scary short stories.

    I like to read stories in collections rather than anthologies though with this RIP challenge doing the rounds, I have been reading about some brilliant ghost story anthologies I am keen to get my hands on!

  7. September 28, 2009 9:12 am

    I haven’t read any short stories for the RIP challenge this year, but sounds like some good ones!

  8. September 28, 2009 9:43 am

    Sounds like the PERFECT atmosphere for RIP reading!!!

    Hands down, my favorite short story collection was one I read for RIP last year…Daphne du Maurier’s Classics of the Macabre. I absolutely loved that book!!! “Don’t Look Now,” “The Blue Lenses,” “The Birds”…oh man, I loved them…

  9. September 28, 2009 10:05 am

    Heather from A High and Hidden Place reviewed a Kelly Link collection ages ago, and I’ve had her on my radar ever since. I’m so glad you mentioned her here!

    I’m finding my RIP short stories a mixed bag. Some are really creepy and others, meh! The Joe Hill collection I’m reading is going very well, so I’m glad of that.

  10. September 28, 2009 11:41 am

    I read short stories every now and then & prefer collections. Alice Munro is always good. Two collections I read earlier this year & liked very much are: Stillness by Courtney Angela Brkic (wonderfully written stories about the Balkan wars in the 90s from different viewpoints) and The Birthday of the World by Ursula Le Guin (issues of gender & sex explored through science fiction)


  11. Carol permalink
    September 28, 2009 12:25 pm

    I only occasionally read short stories. I may have to look up Kelly Link, though.

  12. September 28, 2009 12:48 pm

    Oh that does sound like the perfect setting to curl up with some scary reads!

    I tried to read a Kelly Link book way back before I had ever really tried any sci/fi and fantasy and didn’t like it. Now that I’m much more open to the genre I really need to check her stories out again.

    I don’t read short stories too often but this year I’ve really made a conscious effort to read more.

  13. September 28, 2009 3:23 pm

    Kelly Link’s writing in her short story “Louise’s Ghost” is funny and, as you said, quirky and I just love it – “hairy green sweater” and what the child with the big nose might be smelling – it’s wonderful.

    I really enjoy Raymond Carver’s short stories. He has some wonderful collections. Cathedral is considered one of his best but I love “Will You Please Be Quiet Please?”.

    “American Gothic Tales” edited by Joyce Carol Oates has some great selections especially for this time of year. She includes pieces from Poe, Hawthorne & Faulkner as well as Bradbury, Rice Lovecraft and Bierce.

    ~ Amy
    Thanks for visiting my blog :o)

  14. September 28, 2009 3:39 pm

    I just got Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link after seeing it on Rob Around Books. It does seem to be written in a very straight-forward manner. I plan on reading that and the Joe Hill anthology in the next month. I’m reading In a Glass Darkly right now that is technically a collection of shorts and a longish story. I was iffy on Poe’s Children and you’re keeping me right on the line. ;)

    You know, I don’t read many short stories besides ghost stories and the like. I like horror in small doses but other genres in their full-bodied forms.

  15. September 28, 2009 3:57 pm

    What an exotic (coyotes howling!) and gothic (scary short stories!) post… Liked it a lot!

  16. September 28, 2009 4:32 pm

    I keep searching for Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, but I can’t find it anywhere!

  17. September 28, 2009 8:58 pm

    I hear sled dogs all the time– I imagine it’s pretty similar to the coyotes.

    From your clips, I’d say your assessments were spot on. I love the opening sentence of Link’s story– sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?

    Did Straub himself contribute any stories? The only things of his that I’ve read are his two collaborations with Stephen King.

  18. September 28, 2009 10:33 pm

    I love coyotes!! We have them around here but I live too far into the city to hear them. I would have read a bunch of RIP stories too!!

  19. September 29, 2009 7:45 am

    This collection was a mixed bag for me, some were amazing (Sadness of Detail was excellent for sure) but some just didn’t fit or else I’d read them before. I’m really annoyed when new collections are a re-mix of previously published stories.

  20. September 29, 2009 4:40 pm

    Wow – what an amazing and eclectic list! No wonder you get up so early, if you go through this many books :)
    Many thanks for leaving a comment on my BBAW post.

  21. September 30, 2009 8:56 am

    Anthologies are good if I want to sample new (to me) writers. Then I can go out and look for a collection if there is a writer that has gotten my interest!

    It’s rare for me to find either an anthology or collection where I like everything that has been included….I’m happy when I find a volume where I like almost all of them (such as Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri).

  22. October 2, 2009 9:46 am

    Vivienne, I’ve adjusted to it since I’ve lived here awhile now, but it’s still spooky!

    Claire, I enjoy collections more too, I’ve come to realise this year. :) I’ve only read one of Munro’s stories, and I was kind of iffy about it.

    Steph, oh-that’s so exciting! Thanks for the links!

    Rachel, lol. :D I’ve read “The Garden Party” and loved it, and I have a collection of Mansfield waiting on my TBR case! Thanks for sharing your favourites-I love du Maurier’s scary stories too! And like you, I prefer collections. I challenged myself to read anthologies this year, and the result is I haven’t been reading as many short stories.

    Kailana, there are some good ones, some not so good ones.

    Debi, I’ve read “Don’t Look Now” and “The Birds”-I loved them too!

    Andi, my issue w/ Hill’s stories is his treatment of women in them. It’s REALLY bothering me that so many of his narrator are mysognists.

    Tiina, thanks for the recs-they both sound marvelous!

    Carol, Steph pointed out you can read her whole collection online for free. :D

    Iliana, I didn’t realise she was a sci-fi/fantasy writer!

    Amy, I’ve read “Cathedral” and a few others, but I’m not totally sold on Carver. I think it’s because I’m not a huge fan of contemporary American ‘literary’ authors to begin with. That Oates anthology sounds fascinating though!

    Kristen, I’m iffy on Poe’s Children too-and I’m reading it! :)

    Maria, thank you!

    Lexi, try the link Steph mentioned in an earlier comment! :)

    John, oh-that’s crazy! I forgot you live so far north. :D The beginning of Link does sound like a joke! And I’m not sure if Straub has any stories-he did write a marvelous introduction.

    Daphne, seriously?! You love them?!

    Joanne, I haven’t read enough anthologies to double up (except I’ve read the Gaiman before), but I imagine that would be annoying!

    Sarah, thanks for stopping by!

    Valerie, I’m finding I like sampling authors, but I also strongly prefer collections, when I came ‘sink in’ to one writer’s style! Have you read Lahiri’s earlier collection, Interpreter of Maladies? I thought it was much better than Unaccustomed Earth! (which I also enjoyed, though)

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: