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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: Neil Gaiman's 'Stories'

STORIES
Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
Anthology
June 2010
William Morrow
ISBN: 978-0-06-123092-9

Speaking with clarity and heart about the worlds that open up with the telling of tales, Neil Gaiman lays down the genre wars gauntlet with "Just Four Words", his brilliant introduction to the brilliant anthology, Stories.

And what tales these are in the collection edited by Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, from authors known for their work in literary and genre, all addressing those four important words in the introduction. "...and when what happened?" is what draws readers into a story and keeps them going, and Gaiman is one of the masters today in knowing this. People are missing out on stories they may love because of genre boundaries, which Gaiman calls frustrating. Instead of serving their initial purpose "to guide people around bookshops", Gaiman notes genre boundaries "now seemed to be dictating the kind of stories that were being written".

So readers who think they only like certain kinds of stories are the ones who could get the most from browsing Stories. There is definitely something for everyone. But more importantly, these stories are highly successful at answering the question posed by those four words. Even the ones that are not stellar winners are still interesting, which is rare for any anthology.


Complicated sibling relationships feature in the strongest stories by Joyce Carol Oates (Fossil-Figures) and Carolyn Parkhurst (Unwell). The voice Parkhurst creates in her story is so strong and serves the story so well that I am now reading her new novel, The Nobodies Album. Stories by Gaiman (The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains) and Joe Hill are modern fairy tales that have the ring of being from a different time and place. Hill's has the unnecessary gimmick of typeset resembling stairs, an important factor in his story The Devil on the Staircase. But the power of addressing Gaiman's four words overpowers that misstep. Lawrence Block's Catch and Release beats any coy tale you may know. Michael Swannick plays with meta fiction and fairy tale, while Kat Howard has another meta story.

Walter Mosley's Juvenal Nyx is complicated world rendered understandable within the confines of a short story, a world that could be expanded into any number of stories. Polka Dots and Moonbeams is a dreamy, noir-like tale from Jeffrey Ford. Jeffery Deaver's The Therapist is excellent with its twists and turns to complete a fully realized story. This is not just a slice of life, but is a complete, vibrant story. Elizabeth Hand is represented by The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon, which could have gone in any number of directions but was actually sweet.

Stories also features tales told by unreliable narrators, winners and losers. Other authors contributing range from Richard Adams and Jodi Picoult to Peter Straub, Chuck Palahniuk and Diana Wynne Jones. The great Gene Wolfe is here, as is the one and only Jonathan Carroll.

The voices are varied, the tenor and complexity of the stories vary, but all the Stories lead the reader to want to know what happens next. The anthology also shows how strong storytelling beats genre pigeonholes any time.

© 2010 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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