SHORT STORY REVIEWS

Updated: 25 September 2011 Sunday

*THE SHADOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD anthology has been updated with a review of THE RED TOWER. I have to say, was pleasantly surprised. Ligotti is a hit or miss writer, but when he’s on, he’s on. See below:

This page is one of my most visited… my stats tell me, so I’m going to make it a point of adding to it weekly. So Without further ado:

I recently purchased THE TWISTED TALES OF BRUCE JONES published 1986 by Eclipse Comics. Bruce Jones is a uniquely gifted man, being at once novelist, screen writer, television writer, actor, comic writer, artist… he’s the Al Feldstein of the 80s…. which is to say he’s a very frigging talented man.

As the following stories show, they are from THE TWISTED TALES OF BRUCE JONES #4:

HUNG UP- An oft told tale of a husband looking to do away with his wife, elevated by the contrast between Jones lovely art, and the brutality of his story. And the story has that great gotcha type of end that he learned from EC comics, and writers such as Al Feldstein. A fun, recommended story. B.

ALONE- About a woman, and threatening phonecalls. An oft repeated premise, from Bava’s BLACK SATURDAY to SCREAM, so it would be easy to feel this story is derivative. But Bruce Jones always brings his own spin, and what a spin it is. It takes real talent to in ten pages tell an effective, engaging story… Bruce Jones has that talent. B+.

The third story THE LIGHT AT SOUTH POINT does suffer from feeling derivative, and a space filler, but is competently done. C-. And the last two pages VAMPIRES OF LESBOS is just an art gallery to wrap up the issue. All in all, while not an essential read, definitely an enjoyable one.


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“True!-nervous- very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses- not destroyed- not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.”

… TELL TALE HEART Edgar Allen Poe

Short stories.

You either get their significance or you don’t.

While novels, such as Stephen King’s IT or John Kennedy Toole’s CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES (don’t get the audio book, the reading does not do the book justice, not everyone has a voice you want to listen to… stick with reading the novel), or Charles Johnson’s MIDDLE PASSAGE (Read the book, then listen to the audio book, the author reads it, and it’s fantastic… even in abridged version) are undisputable masterpieces; there is something about the immediacy of the short story, and its brisk narrative progression, that can not be easily equaled.

The short story immediately enters into the psyche. There is an effectiveness in its brevity, a permanence in its compression… that long lingers, and long holds court, in that place in us, where what is best takes root.

Here then are my very biased views of the Best Short Stories. I’m a voracious reader but even so, there is no way this list can be even close to comprehensive, there are no doubt billions upon billions of short stores, and I’ve read only several thousand short stories. And being only proficient in English, I’m only covering English language short stories, or stories that have been translated into English.

[However if you’re Korean, or Ethiopian, or Nigerian, or Cuban, etc… and want to recommend top short stories in those languages, please do and I’ll create a special list for them.]

So if you know of a short story that should be on this list, just leave a comment and I will definitely find the story and read it. And will definitely add your recommendation to this list, if it wows me.

And also I’m constantly, on my own, discovering great short stories, so this list will be added to every week. So please bookmark this page and come back often, as I every week add stuff to this post.

Now without further ado, the HT List of Best Short Stories of all Time (Where necessary info about where you can read the story is attached):

EDGAR ALLEN POE

THE TELL TALE HEART A+
THE BLACK CAT A+
THE MAN WHO WAS USED UP (EDGAR ALLEN POE, CHATHAM RIVER PRESS 1986, ISBN 0-51761832-X) – C- is strictly speaking not a great short story, but an interesting look at Poe’s lesser known humor stories,
THE SPHINX- Is A short tale about a man who thinks he sees a huge monster, with a deductive conclusion. Not one of Poe’s better stories.

H. RUSSELL WAKEFIELD

THE RED LODGE- This is Russell Wakefield’s(1888-1964) first short story, and many consider it his best. It’s a personal favorite of mine, as it evokes perfectly a growing sensation of dread. Fans of films such as RINGU and THE OTHERS and DEVILS BACKBONE will appreciate the slow building dread. A+. (THE BEST GHOST STORIES OF H.RUSSELL WAKEFIELD, FIRST AMERICAN EDITION 1978, ISBN 089733-065-x)

HE COMETH AND HE PASSETH BY- I really enjoy Wakefield’s writing. There is nothing especially riveting about this story of a man trying to come to terms with his friends suspicious death, and yet it does captivate. Stays with you. B. (THE BEST GHOST STORIES OF H.RUSSELL WAKEFIELD, FIRST AMERICAN EDITION 1978, ISBN 089733-065-x)

BLIND MAN’S BLUFF- Is a short story, that seems at first rather forced and awkward, with odd transitions between third and first person, in this tale of a man checking out an old mansion after dark. However,the story ends strong, building that unique atmosphere… of subtle dread. B. (THE BEST GHOST STORIES OF H.RUSSELL WAKEFIELD, FIRST AMERICAN EDITION 1978, ISBN 089733-065-x)

PROFESSOR POWNALL’S OVERSIGHT- Is the tale of a chess rivalry, that continues beyond death. Again there is nothing applause worthy in Wakefield’s writing, but they are very enjoyable and engaging, and to the point. I find his stories comfortable and compelling. B.(THE BEST GHOST STORIES OF H.RUSSELL WAKEFIELD, FIRST AMERICAN EDITION 1978, ISBN 089733-065-x)

DAMP SHEETS- A couple in financial straits, eye a rich uncle. A simple premise, and now 80+ years removed from the stories publication, quite a well used premise, but as always Wakefield’s writing transcends the familiar, by being just so endearing, and engaging. You find yourself turning pages easily, as reading Wakefield is like a relaxed, almost conversational storyteller, spinning a yarn at a dinner party… just for you. And the story builds to one of those odd Wakefield endings, a bit curt, and wry, and ironic… that at first feels like someone put on the brakes perhaps a bit too quickly, but a shake of the head later, and a reread of the page, and nope, it’s just right. Just great ghost story writing, told in a handful of pages. B.(THE BEST GHOST STORIES OF H.RUSSELL WAKEFIELD, FIRST AMERICAN EDITION 1978, ISBN 089733-065-x)

CLIVE BARKER

Basically you can not go wrong with any of Mr. Barker’s BOOKS OF BLOOD, the original first three books. The ones that have the following, brilliantly correct quote on the covers:

“I have seen the future of Horror… And it is named Clive Barker.”- Stephen King

A few of the standouts are:

THE BOOK OF BLOOD- “The dead have highways” A+
THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN- A-
DREAD-“It was an age of Gurus. It was their season” A+

HARLAN ELLISON

As amazing as reading Mr. Ellison’s stories are, listening to him perform them is an absolute must. In addition to being a great writer, Ellison is also one of our Age’s finest and most engaging Audio Actors (joining a rarefied list that includes Orson Welles, M.E. Willis, David Birney, Neil Gaiman, Michael Boatman, and often Stephen King). So by all means buy the books, but also I strongly recommend any audio work he does.

LAUGH TRACK- Reads great, but the performance by Ellison takes it to a whole other level. Just jaw-droppingly good! A tale of TV and laugh tracks. A+ (HOLLYWOOD FANTASIES: TEN SURREAL VISIONS OF TINSEL TOWN ISBN 0-7871-0946-0)

THE LINGERING SCENT OF WOODSMOKE- Fantasy meets Fascism. A.(SLIPPAGE, Mariner Books, ISBN 0-395-92482-0)

PALADIN OF THE LOST HOUR- If you haven’t read it, read it. A+. (ANGRY CANDY, Mariner Books, ISBN 0-395-92481-2)

JEFFREY THOMAS

If the aim of horror is to disquiet, and disturb, then Jeffrey Thomas is a writer who hits the bullseye every time. His collection of short stories AAAIIIEEE!!! while self published (ie Vanity imprint), is no indication on the quality therein. Quite simple an effective, and impressive collection of stories. (AAAIIIEEE!!!, IUNIVERSE, ISBN 0-595-21504-1)

Some standouts being:

RAT KING- My first introduction to the work of Jeffrey Thomas, and I found it very affecting. Concentration camp rememberances. Disturbing. Dangerous Visions for the 21st century. B+/A-.

CHAPEL- Thomas’ work is very affecting, this maternity ward tale is a good example. It’s much like the disquieting dread of Wakefield, meets the visceral sensibilities of Barker. Stories that nag at you long after you finish them. They keep calling you back. B+/A-.

THE YELLOW HOUSE- Dreams of Halloweens past. B.

FALLEN- Dreams of flying. Followed by he who flies. Really good stuff. B+.

PERCIVAL EVERETT

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know Percival Everett is one of my favorite writers. Prolific and brilliant. The first thing I read of his was his short story collection, DAMNED IF I DO, … and it made a believer out of me.(DAMNED IF I DO, Graywolf Press, ISBN 1-55597-411-2)

THE FIX- Magical Realism defined. Brilliant, beautiful, and constantly readable. A+.
THE APPROPRIATION OF CULTURES- Razor keen dissection of the part that symbols play in our lives, and about owning them or being owned. Endlessly rereadable. A+.

VARIOUS GREAT SHORT STORIES

GUNSLINGER by ED GORMAN performed by David Birney (HOLLYWOOD FANTASIES: TEN SURREAL VISIONS OF TINSEL TOWN ISBN 0-7871-0946-0)- One of the greatest stories, with one of the greatest voice actors. A+.

THE ENEMY by Shel Silverstein performed by M.E. Willis (MURDER FOR REVENGE, ISBN 0-7366-4764-3) A-.

WHISPERS IN THE NIGHT: DARK DREAMS III 304 pages Publisher: Dafina (July 1, 2007) ISBN-10: 0758217412 Edited by Brandon Massey.

Tananarive Due- “Summer” -‘Danielle wasn’t sure if she was patient and wise, or if she was a tragedy unfolding slowly, one hot summer day at a time.’ This is my first introduction to the much praised Ms. Due, and she lives up to the hype. An earthy, familial eloquence highlights this tale of a mother and a daughter, and one summer that binds them both. B+.

Anthony Beal AND DEATH RODE WITH HIM- Definitely has a been there done that feel, above and beyond it’s structure. And ultimately not worth th time invested in it. D-.

Wrath James White “SCAB” About a protagonist whining over people calling him too dark. Not even remotey interested.

Lexi Davis- “ARE YOU MY DADDY?” I was pretty sure Tananarive Due’s story would be the highpoint of this collection. However Lexi Davis’ laugh out loud funny parable on the dating scene circa 21st century, gives it a run for it’s money. Very enjoyable. B+/A-.

Randi Walker- “TO GET BREAD AND BUTTER” Is an interesting and entertaiing story about a compulsive personality an one night at the supermarket. Good right till the end which fails to provide a satisfying or understandable conclusion. C-/D.

Dameon Edwards-“DREAM GIRL” Yet another very good story about a lonely guy, looking for his… dream girl. However, yet again, the open ended nature of the ending…underwhelms. C.

Rickey Windell Geoge “HELL IS FOR CHILDREN” departs from the ephemeral Wakefield style horror that pervades most of this anthology, and goes straight for the gut in a decidedly unpleasant but well crafted story. What Ellison would have called a DANGEROUS VISION. B.

THOMAS LIGOTTI

THE SHADOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD by Thomas Ligotti- After reading many praises of the short stories of this writer, I finally ponied up the money for this anthology of his work.

THE LAST FEAST OF HARLEQUIN- Very much in the Lovecraft and Poe vein, without the heart that either one of those writers brings to a story. A rather tepid, underwhelming story and an inauspicious introduction to the author. C-/D.

DR. VOKE AND MR. VEECH- “Now this becomes the great”. Finally a story that lives up to that Ligotti hype. It’s lovely,lush,lunatic language, about a room at the top of endless stares, and mad, laughing puppets. This is one that demands and rewards repeated readings, and is made to be read aloud. B+.

DR. LOCRIAN’S ASYLUM- You can clearly see the stamp of Lovecraft in this story, but you can also see a use of language, an adornment that is uniquely Ligotti. In this tale of a dying town, in the shadow of a dead asylum. Good story, but perhaps with a slightly truncated feeling/underwhelming ending. B-/B.

THE SPECTACLES IN THE DRAW- Ligotti does love to ramble on. And not in descriptions as Stephen King would do, but he uses his characters to deliver long, forced, unnatural sounding monologues, lectures on the nature of the world. His fiction in its most pedantic, is less narrative than lecture. And you see that tendency here a bit in this story, it’s brief thankfully, but it’s noticeable and it jars you right out of the story. This tale about a collector of mysteries and a prank he plays on one of his disciples is interesting, (there’s a tantalizing Barker/Hellblazer vibe here) but the interesting portions are quickly pushed aside, as the story crumbles toward some brusque denouement. C-.

THE BUNGALOW HOUSE- If the monologues in THE SPECTACLES IN THE DRAW are minor speed bumps, in THE BUNGALOW HOUSE they are gridlocked traffic jams, particularly toward the end of the story, derailing any momentum the story had… completely. My least favorite of Ligotti’s stories so far. D-/F.

TEATRO GROTTESCO-Is a very intriguing story about under ground artists, and the mysterious Teatro that stalks them all. This one stuck closer to an actual narrative, and built up moments of true mood. And while still ephemeral to the point of ludicrousness (You want an example? check this out: “I was outraged to be standing where I was standing and resentful of the staring eyes of Dr. Groddeck. No matter if I had approached the Teatro, the Teatro had approached me, or we both approached each other. I realized that there is such a thing as being approached in order to force one’s hand into making what only appears to be an approach, which is actually a non approach that negates the whole idea of approaching.” WTF???) this one pays off far better. B-/B.

(New Review!! 10 Nov 2008)THE RED TOWER- One of Ligotti’s later stories, the next to last of his THE SHADOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD anthology, is surprisingly… lush, and evocative, and haunting. It’s the kind of story, you want to read aloud. To hear the words tumble, and careen, and dance… and gibber, watching you, with baleful eyes… from the dead corners of your room. It becomes something other, when you read it aloud. That typically doesn’t make a difference with most stories, but try it with this one. Haunting. B+.

PURITY- “It was another world altogether… a twisted paradise of danger and derangement… of crumbling houses packed extremely close together… of burned out houses leaning toward utter extinction… of houses with black openings where once there had been doors and windows… and of empty fields over which shown a moon that was somehow different from the one seen elsewhere on this earth.” PURITY is the last story in the anthology and the newest, and one of the best. Showing a clearer narrative line, and a wonderful use of language. This tale of a most unique family, that moves from place to place… seeking to own nothing. B/B+.

Update 21 Oct 2007

Ambrose Bierce

THE MAN AND THE SNAKE -Entertaining little story that manages to be brief and still effective. C+.

A HEIRESS FROM REDHORSE-A little soap operaesque slice of life 1st person account of a heiress falling for a mysterous handsome stranger. Odd, but amusing little bit of flff. C-.

Theodore Roosevelt

THE WENDIGO- Straight forward tale of a trappers run in with something… that will not be trapped. B.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: THE RED TOWER by Thomas Ligotti; and BARAKA Blu-ray DVD, plus HALF.COM auctions! « Heroic Times

  2. Pingback: H Russell Wakefield and Today’s Discoveries and Best Buys!! « Heroic Times

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