Stories is a short story collection edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, a collection of stories with not much in common except that they actually have a story (unlike certain high literary short stories which often seem to me to be more of case of showing how impressively the author can string words together).
It took me a while to read this collection; not because it was a struggle, quite the opposite in fact, there were many stories in the collection that felt so good that once I read them, even though I had time to read more I didn’t want to, I wanted to give that particular story time to digest and ruminate and sink in first. Stories is a collection of mostly highly memorable stories. There were very few stories I didn’t like and a lot of stories I absolutely loved. A lot of the stories were stories with twists and as I don’t want to give anything away I will try not to, so I won’t go into too much detail.
The collection opens with a bang with the wonderful Blood by Roddy Doyle, now I’ve seen or read quite a few interviews with Gaiman talking about the premise behind this collection and he has often described it as telling stories as if that story had never been told before, so for example telling a vampire story, such as Doyle’s Blood, as if there was no such thing as a vampire story before and that worked so well, the domesticity of the whole set up was wonderful and Blood was one of my favourite stories in the collection.
Fossil-Figures by Joyce Carol Oates was one of the stories in the collection that took me a while to warm to, about two brothers, it was the ending which really sparked for me.
Wildfire in Manhattan by Joanne Harris is quite a Gaimanesque story and is about ancient gods living in the modern world. I did quite like this but the similarity to Gaiman’s work (although Gaiman is by no means the only author to have written about ancient gods in the modern world) meant this story lacked the spark of originality that many of the other stories in the collection had.
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is Neil Gaiman‘s novella and is a period piece set in the Scottish Highlands and is as brilliant as you’d expect it to be. This is Gaiman doing very mythic again.
Unbelief by Michael Marshall Smith is one of the few stories I didn’t like, about a hitman sent to kill someone, I may be being thick but I just did not get the ending.
The Stars are Falling by Joe R. Lansdale tells the tale of a soldier, long thought dead, coming home from the war, in a scenario you can imagine truly happening.
Juvenal Nyx by Walter Mosley is another vampire story, this time slightly more conventional that Doyle’s Blood, but still a good read nevertheless.
The Knife by Richard Adams felt a bit short and more like describing an event rather than a story.
Weights and Measures by Jodi Picoult tells the story of parents loosing their child and it is not a domestic tale as you may imagine.
Goblin Lake by Michael Swanwick is in the form of an old fashioned fairytale but not wanting to give anything away,it is very thought provoking.
Mallon the Guru by Peter Straub, I did not like, it was a perfectly fine short story but it felt like it didn’t fit into the criteria of the collection, as Gaiman wrote in the introduction
. . . and then what happened?*
In Mallon the Guru nothing much did happen, which made it seem an odd story for the book.
Catch and Release by Lawrence Block was one of my favourite stories and ooh I can’t say too much about why I particularly liked it but it’s about a serial killer whose decided to get his kicks by just picking up victims and then letting them go. But Block is a master at one of my favourite techniques of not telegraphing when something is about to happen, which makes what then happens more shocking and surprising, specially when the text continues in such a matter of fact way.
Polka Dots and Moonbeams by Jeffrey Ford is a slightly weird 50s (I think) style story set in the slightly seedy but glamorous US. It weirdly, like Lansdale’s story, also features falling stars.
Loser by Chuck Palahniuk is set on a game show in first person and is written in such a brilliant way that you feel like you’re on that game show and it is not a pleasant experience, so it’s a relatively uncomfortable read for so successfully evoking those emotions.
Samantha’s Diary by Diana Wynne Jones is almost teen fiction; it’s the diary of a young woman in the future who is getting wooed in the most unsuitable but rather funny way.
Land of the Lost by Stewart O’Nan is about a woman looking for the burial site of a child murder victim and is, as you would expect, rather poignant and sad.
Leif in the Wind by Gene Wolfe is pure sci-fi, with a take on the old story of what happens if astronauts bring home something from their explorations unintentionally.
Unwell by Carolyn Parkhurst is a tale of two old biddy sisters still competing over love and is another one of the stories with an excellent ending.
A Life in Fictions is written by the newcomer Kat Howard and it is excellent, another quite claustrophobic to read story (like Palahniuk’s), Howard really gets you into the head of the main character who has the unfortunate problem of being written into stories and when the story is being written she disappears.
Let the Past Begin by Jonathan Carroll is a bit of a weird story, as I write this blog post, I have Stories open in front of me and when I look at this particular story I can remember I enjoyed reading it and I remember it’s about two potential fathers of a woman’s baby but that’s about it (other than the story being a bit weird). So obviously the least memorable story of the collection.
The Therapist by Jeffrey Deaver was brilliant, I absolutely loved it, utilising the technique of telling the same story from different viewpoints you’re really wondering who the nut job is in the story, well until . . .
Parallel Lines by Tim Powers is another story looking at the relationship between two old sisters, but this time with a bit of a supernatural twist.
The Cult of the Nose by Al Sarrantonio is another story where you’re questioning whose viewpoint is the right one. I love stories like that.
Human Intelligence by Kurt Anderson is a really sweet (in a way) story about a long abandoned spy. I liked this one to.
Stories by Michael Moorcock took a while to get into, it reads very much like a personal history of a group of friends and all the names and dates get a bit boring after a while but you still keep reading to find out what happened to a rather unlikeable character.
The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon by Elizabeth Hand was quite a sweet story about a group of friends trying to recreate a film for a dying friend.
by Joe Hill was written
primarily like this and was a
story set at some point in Italy’s
history in a mountainous region where
the hills were covered in stairs. I’d love to
know whether those stairs really existed / do
is another one of
the almost hypnotic
examples littering Stories
where you almost feel like you’re there.
So in summary, as someone who is not normally a fan of the short story, this is a brilliant collection of diverse stories where most of them fit the brief of actually telling a story, not just showing off with words. Stories is like a condensed writers’ lesson in who many different, showing how many techniques there are to telling a story and I particularly valued the stories where there were unreliable narrators or narrators that bought you into their world so closely and so efficiently it felt almost claustrophobic. I even felt I learnt something from the introduction alone, ’. . . and then what happened?’ is a motto for any writer to go by.
* (A phrase I so want to embroider on something).