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Short Story Monday: Wrapping Up Poe’s Children

October 19, 2009

PoesChildrenAh yes-the now infamous short story anthology edited by Peter Straub: Poe’s Children. Several of you suggested I do various highly amusing things to it after my rant a couple Mondays ago. Since it’s a library copy, none of that happened, and after a few days struggle, I decided to go ahead and finish the anthology BUT to abandon a story at the first sign of misogynism. And, after one story from this anthology, I could immediately read one from The Virago Book of Ghost Stories to kep things balanced. And don’t worry-I’m loving the stories in the Virago, so after this week you’ll find my Short Story Mondays a positive, wonderful place to be. ;)

Fortunately, I don’t have any absurd scenes to share with you today.

That being said, while I loved some of the remaining stories, most of them were written at a ‘meh’ or lower level, for me at least. I think Straub and I have very different ideas of good writing. And I already returned the book, so I won’t be able to share with you samples of the not-so-great writing. But that’s ok since I have 11 stories to get through!

“Unearthed” by Benjamin Percy was a weird ‘dig up an Indian story.’ Written from a son’s point of view, and how his father the archaeologist likes to find Native American artifacts with him and then steal them and keep them in his house. I found that odd, since the artifacts lose their academic value when they’re moved, but whatever. Maybe the dad was a geologist? Obviously, this didn’t make much of an impression on me. “Gardener of Heart” by Bardford Morrow had a ridiculously ornate writing style for no apparent reason-I was quite bored by the story, and even more bored by the twist at the end. “Little Red’s Tango” was Peter Straub’s contribution. It’s long at 36 pages, but I spent the whole story trying to figure out why Sraub would name a MALE character Little Red, when I think every Westerner associates that with Little Red Riding Hood. And there’s this list of ‘information’ about Little Red, that we find out at the end is supposed to be a kind of saint’s file, but since we don’t know that until the end, I spent the whole story wondering why I cared about Little Red. Straub seemed to assume I’d care, rather than making me do so.

Ok, so after those three, I came to a good one by Stephen King himself: “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet.” This is about writing and publishing and insanity, and it’s all being told at a cocktail party by an editor several years after the fact. But King does a great job and slowly drawing you into the spiral of madness, and keeping you there. By the end, I really cared about all of the characters, and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened! This was a good one, and at 50 pages, it was approaching novella length. Immediately following that (which amused me) was Joe Hill’s story “20th Century Ghosts.” I had just listened to this as part of the audiobook of Hill’s short story collection a couple of weeks ago, but I enjoyed reading it in hard copy. It’s a marvelous story about old-fashioned cinema and ghosts and the sadness of war-another winner!

Then came a story written by a woman! ;) “The Green Glass Sea” by Ellen Klages was a very well written story (I wish I had the excerpts to prove it), and I will definitely be reading more of her in the future. But, I don’t really see how it’s at all related to horror. It’s about a young girl who is staying with adults involved in the Las Alamos project, which I suppose is pretty horrific all on its own. It’s quite short, so I won’t say more than that, but Klages immediately brought her characters to lige, and her portrayal of emotion was pitch perfect.

Um, the next story is “The Kiss” by Tai Travis. I know I read it on Thursday. But I can’t remember anything about it to save my life. So we’re moving right on to “Black Dust” by Graham Joyce. This one had a classic ghost story feel to it, and was based on a boy living in a coal mining community and the male relationships he had (nothing sketchy-I can’t think of another way to phrase it!). It wasn’t anything mind-blowing, but it was quite good, and if the Virago ghost stories anthology had male authors too, this one would have fit right in. I’ll probably be trying out more of Joyce at some point.

I finally got to Gaiman after that!!! Everyone knows at this point that I love Gaiman, and while I didn’t enjoy his short story collection Fragile Things as much as Smoke and Mirrors, “October in the Chair” is one of my very favourite of his stories! The months are personified! And they’re telling stories around the campfire fire! And the nested story is so ambigous and classic and twisting and wonderful. And there’s a ghost! And a cemetary! Oh, go read it already. ;)

“Missolonghi 1824” by John Crowley left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I loved the mythic aspects of it, and Crowley’s style is very good. But I really didn’t like that when a character is trying to free a minor god, he tells him to sneak about and rape the people’s wives and daughters. I get that it’s mythic, and it didn’t have the misogynistic overtones of the earlier stories I discussed. But it hit a very jarring note for me that rather spoiled my enjoyment of the story. That’s quite a personal thing, though, and it’s just one line and by no means the story’s emphasis, but I have to be honest. That being said, I want to read more of Crowley soon!

The final story, “Insect Dreams” by Rosalind Palermo Stevenson had a silly plot and bad writing. It was a pretty weak note to end what, in my opinion, was a pretty weak collection. While I did discover some marvelous new authors, I wouldn’t recommend this anthology to readers who value writing style.

What’s most important to you as a reader? Beautiful writing? Inventive plot? Loveable characters? Or something else altogether?

22 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2009 5:10 am

    Sounds like a mixed bag but anthologies are like that.

    I do like beautiful writing but plot helps too.

  2. October 19, 2009 6:02 am

    Kudos for finishing this! I picked it up from the library months ago and returned it shortly thereafter.

    I did pick up Hellbound Hearts last weekend (which I think you reviewed a couple of weeks ago?) and am enjoying that far better.

    Poe’s Children was especially disappointing because, as much as one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I totally the package which made the writing even more disappointing!

  3. October 19, 2009 6:04 am

    Hmmm…I have The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, but uh, it’s in novel form! Annie and I are planning to read it for school later this year (our history through lit unit that we do to correspond with U.S. history).

    Anyway, I’m glad while a disappointment overall, the rest of the stories didn’t cause more blood boiling.

    • Ellen Klages permalink
      October 19, 2009 9:52 am

      I wrote the short story ifirst, in 2002, and (in a very slightly different version), it’s also the last chapter in the novel, which came out in 2006.

  4. October 19, 2009 6:11 am

    HI! I know I accidentally signed up to be a cheerleader but I was really looking for the readers column. Oops! But my email address is and I would love to help cheer as well as read! :D

  5. October 19, 2009 6:11 am

    HI! I know I accidentally signed up to be a cheerleader but I was really looking for the readers column. Oops! But my email address is and I would love to help cheer as well as read! :D

  6. October 19, 2009 6:51 am

    I don’t need beautiful writing as much as I do a good plot and interesting characters. In a short story, plot’s the most important thing for me – I think it’s rare and difficult for a short story to manage really good characters in only a brief space.

  7. October 19, 2009 7:01 am

    Sounds like the collection overall was just ok. I may check it out for the Stephen King and Ellen Klages stories.

  8. October 19, 2009 7:14 am

    Most important thing in writing to me is characterization. Well, and just plain good writing. If you can’t write decently, it’ll be difficult to make believable characters. But assuming an author can write, it’s characterization that’s most important to me. Characters have to be believable. I don’t even have to like them, as long as they feel like real people. I recall recently reading a book called Breathless by Jessica Warman, where the story was the sort of plot I would normally hate, and the book had elements of all the things I find nausea-inducing, but the characters were so real that I just loved the book to pieces.

  9. October 19, 2009 10:55 am

    I’m variable on the writing thing. I can put up with poor writing if the plot is good and I can race through the book – ie Twilight. But I also love beautiful writing which is written at a slower pace with a less fraught plotline.
    I don’t mind disliking characters and can enjoy a boy even if I don’t like a character.

  10. October 19, 2009 11:13 am

    The most important thing for me is that there be some way for me to lose myself in the story. This can be either plot, character or prose — I love all three. They don’t all have to be great for a book to work for me, but if one is very bad it can spoil the whole thing.

    I’ve been reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber collection which has many wonderful, creepy stories in it, if you’re still looking for a good scare.

  11. October 19, 2009 12:32 pm

    I’m glad that King had something good for the anthology! I’m a huge Stephen King fan :)

  12. October 19, 2009 12:40 pm

    Good writing is always important. To me, “beautiful writing” is when it’s lyrical or highly descriptive, and good writing doesn’t always have to be either. Otherwise, what’s important (plot, characters, etc) depends on my reading mood :-).

  13. October 19, 2009 1:15 pm

    Hey this is my first time to your blog and I am impressed! What an interesting post. I think above every thing else the most important part of the book is the writing. You could hate the plot, hate the characters, hate almost everything but if the writing is beautiful you will have me hooked. It is easy to come up with a premise and plot and what not, but to be able to write with force and grace is truly something special.

  14. October 19, 2009 1:56 pm

    Oh dear, this collection does sound a bit uninspiring!

    I’d second CB’s reccomendation of the Carter for some well written freaky stories. On the scary front, it’s hard to go wrong with Sheridan La Fanu and M R James.

  15. October 19, 2009 3:39 pm

    Chris, anthologies are like that, aren’t they? I think I definitely prefer collections!

    Christina, thanks. :) I wish I’d never gotten it from library in first place, but oh well! lol I haven’t heard of Hellbound Hearts before-it sounds interesting!

    Debi, that’s interesting! And Ellen, thanks for stoping by-I definitely want to read the novel that grew out of your story!

    Lys, ok-I’ll e-mail you! :)

    Jenny, I think plot’s the least important to me in a short story…I’m ok with the ‘snapshot’ theory that we only get a glimpse into the characters’ lives. :)

    Sagustocox, there were some other really good stories in it-I’ve reviewed them earlier! But definitely look into the King and Klages!

    Amanda, interesting! I tend fall most in love with books whose characters I fall in love with. :D

    Katrina, I used to be like that (I enjoyed Twilight in 2007-found it hilarious!), but this year I’ve gotten really picky about writing, and I’m not sure why. I don’t need to like every character, either, but I need to like at least one of them. Otherwise I don’t care!

    CB, oh-that’s a good point! I think I’m a lot like you. :) I read The Bloody Chamber last year, I think-but thanks for the rec!

    Tracie, I loved him when I was around 13, but I haven’t revisited him for awhile. This short story really impressed me, so I might jus thave to!

    Valerie, that’s a good point-I should have said ‘good writing.’ And about reading moods! I swear some days a book just isn’t going to be able to get on my good side no matter what. ;)

    Prongs, thanks for the visit and the compliment! :) I tend to be a sucker for beautiful writing as well.

    Sarah, I have Le Fanu and MR James on my TBR case-maybe I’ll actually get them now!

  16. October 19, 2009 3:46 pm

    Glad to hear you had a better week with your short stories! I recently read Gaiman’s Fragile Things and didn’t care for it at all; at the very least, it was so unbalanced. But I’m glad to hear that it might not be that I just don’t like short stories if this isn’t a collection that worked for someone who enjoys short stories. I’ll have to pick up Smoke and Mirrors.

  17. October 19, 2009 10:47 pm

    If you are interested in more John Crowley look for The Translator, a novel he wrote that takes place during/after the Cuban Missle Crisis. GREAT read!

  18. October 20, 2009 3:29 am

    great wrap up Eva. I read a couple of stories from Fragile things and I found them very weird, lol.

    For me, the plot would be the most important because I can get thru’ an entire book if the plot is amazing but I cannot read a book just for the writing.

  19. October 20, 2009 5:54 am

    Lisa, definitely try out another short story collection. :) I wasn’t overly impressed with Fragile Things, while Smoke & Mirrors blew me away!

    Weekend Reader, Cuban Missile Crisis?! My international relations internal geek just perked up! Thanks for the rec!

    Violet, lol! Well, Gaiman’s stories tend to be a bit odd, but Some & Mirrors is awesome. ;) That’s interesting about you and plot-I can’t read a book if it’s got poor writing no matter how intriguing the plot!

  20. October 21, 2009 8:47 pm

    As I’m not a writer I *try* not to judge writing quite so much but I do admit to being a word snob. I LOVE words. And characters. If both of those things are there then I don’t care as much about the plot.

  21. October 22, 2009 9:58 am

    Trish, that’s interesting that you try not to judge the writing! I figure as a reader, I can jduge how it reads. lol

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