Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The New Horror in Short Stories

...I was beat. Arguing with the children, a trip to the dentist, then endless shopping for invisible things--toilet paper, glue, salt. Things no one ever knows are there until they're gone and are then needed desperately. An invisible day where you exhaust yourself running around, doing thankless errands that are necessary but meaningless: the housewife's oxymoron.
- Jonathan Carroll, "The Sadness of Detail", page 207 of Poe's Children.

Poe's Children is a compilation of what editor Peter Straub labels the "New Horror" - authors that strive to escape the ghettos of typical horror fiction in favor of "literature" (or at least genre mixing). Like all short story anthologies, not all of the stories are successful, even if they all are variations of a theme. So far, the ones that  work for me are the ones that provoke a visceral reaction - either of horror, disgust, or wonder. To me, that's what horror as a genre is all about - lifting you out of he mundane world Carroll describes so aptly above. For example, Kelly Link's “Louise’s Ghost” is a story that's certainly interesting and has a fun conceit - the entire story is about two women both named Louise so it's difficult to tell who is doing or saying what for a while - but it didn't present any wow moments to me (unlike the other stories she presented in Stranger Things Happen). No, the strongest stories here either shock like Dan Chaon's “The Bees” (a truly disturbing tale of supernatural redemption) or present a situation to you in an entirely new way like Carroll's story or Elizabeth Hand's “Cleopatra Brimstone” (the best story i've read in 2001, hands down).

Still only halfway through the book, but so far it's half hits, half misses. A pretty good showing in my book. Hey, hitting .500 would win you the batting title and $250 million dollars, so Straub did something right!

Cross Posted at Reading, Running and Red Sox

No comments: