Friday, October 09, 2009

New This Month: American Fantastic Tales edited by Peter Straub

If you were to make a list of experts to choose the very best of contemporary literature of the fantastic, Peter Straub’s name would certainly be very near the top. The author of 18 novels, if you’ve read any horror fiction at all over the last three decades, you know his name. That being the case, you simply could not ask for a better editor for The Library of America’s two volume American Fantastic Tales.

Straub knows this arena, from every angle. He knows the stars and he knows a good story when he reads one. Maybe better still, he’s not shy about sharing his finds. The collections resulting from this passionate and caring expertise are… well… fantastic.

In both Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now and Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps, we encounter the work of a breathtaking number of writers. The heavy hitters are here -- Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, Anthony Boucher, Shirley Jackson, Michael Chabon -- as well as some unexpected names known for other types of fiction -- Truman Capote, Washington Irving, Herman Melville, Edith Wharton. And between these stories from authors with household names come glittering offerings from writers who really should be better known.

In this regard -- perhaps in every regard -- American Fantastic Tales is a perfect collection. Pushing at the boundaries of genre; embracing it where appropriate and -- in the act of all of that -- defining it in a way. As Straub himself says in his introduction to American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now:
When thought of, in really the simplest manner possible, as an alternative to straightforward realism, the fantastic can immediately be seen to offer writers of fiction another toolbox, another set of instruments available for the depiction of human beings in interesting and revelatory situations. Or, take of those glasses and put on these glasses: see how different everything looks? The landscape instantly becomes craggier, the shadows deeper, the buildings more eccentric and Gaudiesque. At its core, I think, the fantastic is a way of seeing.


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