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___SHORT SUMMARIES___

OF

___________________SHORT STORIES_________________

 

"A Perfect Day for Bananafish" by J. D. Salinger, published in Nine Stories, Bantam PB, ISBN 0553205129, 25th printing, c.1953

This is the best short story collection I've ever read. Period. Of course, reading them during the I-Like-Ike era was influential. Some of the stories are only less fascinating than the others. In the 1950s, not many looked at the enturbulated underbelly--that psychic residue of shame and terror from the WWII experienceother than a small bunch of B-level filmmakers creating what we now call film noir. My other favorite is "For Esmewith Love and Squalor."

"The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood published in Tales of Terror and the Unknown, E.P. Dutton PB, c.1965

This is his most popular storyand for good reasons. All of these stories were written about 100 years ago, when ghost stories were explorations, not adrelinine rushes, and their creepiness was built in your imagination, not splattered all over the room for you to slip in. My other favorites are "Max Hensig", "May Day Eve", "The Camp of the Dog", andnot to be missed"The Wendigo". I need to read more of this author and am looking for other works, namely Julius LeVallon and The Bright Messenger.

"A Scandal in Bohemia" by Arthur Conan Doyle published originally in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, George Newnes Publisher UK, c.1892.

When attacking Hommie, why not start at the beginning? Besides introducing the famous duo, it brings us our only glance at Irene Adler, a much-needed strong female character who is, alas, only referred to in subsequent stories. If you want to contemporize Holmes for easier swallowing, watch Richie's 2009 movie with Downey & Law. It might make "The Speckled Band" and the compulsory novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles more palatable for modern taste buds.

"The Dead" by James Joyce published in Dubliners, Viking TPB, c.1967, story c.1914.

They made us read "Araby" for college prep, then I got the full dose during spring quarter 1968 at UC Berkeley. As I continued with Joyce, I found him more and more incomprehensible, culminating before I could even get to Molly's damn soliloquy in Ulysses. But "The Dead" put a new word into my consciousness: epiphany. I grudgingly identified with Gabriel's small, ego-bolstered worldview, and scared that my "own identity was fading out into a gray impalpable world" (p.223). The revelation was that it was my own pettiness--not the world's--and that led me to a cornerstone of my maturing philosophy, summed up later by Jackson Browne with "nothing survives, but the way we live our lives."

"The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka published originally in German by Kurt Wolff Verlag, c.1915.

How can you deny a story when its first sentence is: "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." It is the ultimate fantasist's backflip of appearance-vs.-reality, made doubly uneasy with not even a nod as to why? If, in fact, "it is what it is" as my son Tol would say, it validates all fantasy literature with meritand bestows upon it the possibility of revealing that hidden, capping arcana we're all searching for.

Especially for us Outsiders.

"The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson published in The Ghost Pirates and Other Revenants of the Sea, Vol. III, Night Shade Books, ISBN 189238941X, c.2005, story c.1907.

Most terrors, when experienced vicariously through books or film, are cluastraphobic: the darkened hallway in a haunted house, the point-of-view camera angle opening a door into nothingness, the jack-in-the-box horror when pulling off a coffin lid. But the creepiness of the ocean comes from just the opposite place and is best pondered by this author over a century ago. It is "the enormous silence of the sea, spreading out . . . every way into the everlasting, brooding night . . . as calm and quiet as some queer plain of death" ("The Stone Ship", p.279). It is so indifferent, so alien, so not interested in being a part of our world.

This is a story about a doomed couple who are slowly being horribly consumed by the sea, or something derivative of the sea. It is a cancerous and pathetic tale that is becoming all the more real as we age and see our friends get devoured by nonchalant and inscrutable forces. Pray we face it with the same strength as these characters do.

 

"The Graveyard Rats" by Henry Kuttner published in The Graveyard Reader, edited by Groff Conklin, Ballantine PBO, c.1958, story c.1936.

This, by no means, is the best Kuttner story out there. But, I picked it because it was the 1st story Kuttner ever published, and I wanted to stay consistent with Catherine his wife. Plus, this was one of my all-time virgin scare experiences.

In the triple-digit summers of Phoenix managed by swamp coolers, I would dig underground forts to play and stay comfortable in the cooler, desert earth. Imagine my 11-year old, creeped-out brain, housed in a miner's hat and propped up against a dirt wall, readin' about a gloomy gravedigger who ends up crawlin' in the below-ground passageways between graves chasin' jewelry on a dead guy being dragged by hungry and industrious ratsand something else. When that scorpion landed on my shoulder you can bet it felt just like the first scratchings of a subterranean zombie!

But besides the heavy-handed moral message against stealin' and greed, there was, for me I think, a deeper, thought-twisted haven in those self-made caves regarding the consolation of the womb in the primordial dirt.

Better Kuttner stories are to be found in The Best of Henry Kuttner (Nelson Doubleday BCE, intro by Bradbury, c.1975), like "Two-Headed Engine", "The Proud Robot", and "The Twonky".

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson published in The Lottery or, The Adventures of James Harris, Demon Lover, Lion Books, #14, c.1950, but story c.1948.

What homage to the short story would be complete without this selection? I know, you've already read it. In high school. But read it again. If this cover art is any indication, you might find a whole different story than the one you remember.

"Kaleidoscope" by Ray Bradbury published in The Illustrated Man, Doubleday, c.1951, but story 1949.

It is impossible to pick only one story as being the best of Ray Bradbury. It's even ridicilous to highlight one out of a favorite collection, let alone by genre or any other catorization. Only because I remember it the best after 50 years since reading, I picked this one about a disgruntled astronaut reminscing his worthless life as he tumbles toward earth and certain death. At the same time he wishes he could do only one "good thing for just himself to know about" (p.150), a boy in Illinois points up and says, "Look, Mom, look! A falling star!" His mom replies, "make a wish. Make a wish."

I also like "The Emissary" from Dark Carnival a lot.

I'd recommend The Stories by Ray Bradbury, published by Knopf in 1980. Ray's picked his favorite 100 stories from the beginning of his career forwardbookended loosely between Dark Carnival and Long After Midnight.

"The Color out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft published in Cry Horror!, Avon PB, c.1959, but story c.1927.

This was my first introduction to HPL. I was 12 years old and having some serious transitional problems facing puberty. I had shutters on my bedroom in Phoenix so I could read by candlelight during the day. Along with Forrie's Famous Monster of Filmland magazine, this story grievously disturbed me.

Upon later study of Lovecraft, I'd recommend Arkham's collection The Dunwich Horror. Not a bad read in the bunch.

"The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories" by Gene Wolfe published in The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories, Pocket Books PBO, ISBN 067182824X, c.1980.

This is the most successful second-person narrative I've ever come across. It may be the only one I've ever read. They're pretty scarce. But this one, wow. It achieves the narrow focus of first-person, and simultaneously, the complete detachment of the teller, even from himself. It is a profound alienation--perfect for a story about trying to figure what's going onyet retains a deep emotional involvement. The other two Island/Death stories kinda make a trilogyZiesing published The Wolfe Archipelago where Gene added a fourthbut the basis for linkage beyond the titles is puzzling. But all of Wolfe is somewhat disconcerting. He seems to be writing on a shelf above me, a pace ahead of my literary experience, and I've never decided if it is audacity or genius. Clarity is not his strong suit; that's okay 'cause it ain't mine, either. But I feel, well, cheated; as if he's making me do too much of the work. Maybe there's just not enough adjectives for me. But try "The Hero As Werwolf", "The Eyeflash Miracles" and "Seven American Nights" from this collection as well.

"Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament" by Clive Barker, published in Books of Blood, Vol II, c.1984 as anthologized by Stealth Press, ISBN 1588810402, c.2001.

This is eroticism of the bizarre personified. It links sex and death way past the French's petit mort and into a sort of obsessional pilgrimage leaving from the mundane for a phantasmagorical re-defining of oneself strictly through the magic of extreme carnal sensation. Lose yourself to Pan's pipes and wake upif you dofar beyond erections and wetness. Don't read this story if you believe self-loathing is merely an affectation.

"Bread and Circuses" & "Phantasy Moste Grotesk" by Felicity Dowker, TPB published in Bread and Circuses, c.2012, Ticonderoga Publications, Australia, ISBN 9781921857089.

This down-under gal will put you down and under with twisted, scary stuff. Ms Dowker is from Tasmania and certainly has some devil inside her. Not a lot of pulled punches here. To borrow her own words from the back cover blurb, "it hurts, and it's horrible, and it's beautiful . . . and we might as well enjoy it."

 

Copyright 08/21/2010 by Larry Crawford

 

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