I'm not really sure how to review an anthology of short stories, but I want to try. I knew I wanted to read Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, and featuring many well-known names in the literary world, when I first heard about it. I enjoy short fiction, and wanted to try this collection out.
I've decided to give a brief review/preview or my personal thoughts on each piece in the book. I read every story but one, and I gave up on one story, putting my total at 25 out of the 27 stories.
Introduction: Neil Gaiman talks about the importance of stories, that it's the story that carries a book, not the way the story is told. The purpose of this anthology is to tell good stories, to inspire the reader to ask The Four Words "...and then what happened?"
"Blood," by Roddy Doyle. A man finds himself craving blood, though he confesses to be nothing but normal. I was eating lunch when I read this story and I almost had to quit. The descriptions of some of the actions were enough to almost make me vomit. The end certainly carried a shock. One of the best stories in the collection.
"Fossil-Figures," by Joyce Carol Oates. A story about twin brothers and their unique relationship. The writing style is somewhat confusing, but the tale is gripping and riveting. I devoured this story and loved the way it was written. The final image is haunting.
"Wildfire in Manhattan," by Joanne Harris, is a story about modern gods living in America and trying to stay alive. This one was not very interesting or entertaining.
"The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains," by Neil Gaiman: This tale is wonderfully written, filled with intrigue and mystery. The reader is sucked into the world of the strange man and his journey for the cave, never let go until the satisfying conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed this story.
"Unbelief," by Michael Marshall Smith, was short, mostly unsatisfying, and weird.
"The Stars are Falling," by Joe R. Lansdale, is about a man who comes back from the Great War, long thought dead. The writing style was solid, the plot perfectly paced, and the story was thrilling. I enjoyed this one very much.
"Juvenal Nyx," by Walter Mosley, is a semi-vampiric tale that is written with enough intrigue that the reader cannot help but be captivated. A bit adult in some scenes, but an excellent short story.
"The Knife," by Richard Adams, is one of the shortest stories in this collection, totaling less than three full pages. This tale was very dark and the scene wasn't much.
"Weights and Measures," Jodi Picoult, is full of despair and tragedy, with a bit of oddness thrown in. The story is about the death of a child and the effects on the surviving parents. I read it, curious about what was happening and how Picoult described certain things. I can't say I enjoyed this story, but it was powerful and well-written.
"Goblin Lake," by Michael Swanwick, was a delightful read that left me puzzled, scratching my head, and filled with awe and wonder. It's hard to even describe this piece, but it was fun and enjoyable.
"Mallon and Guru," by Peter Straub, left me irate and aggravated. This was the first piece of anything by Straub I've ever read, and the story is good. It introduces a peculiar character with exciting possibilities, but then the story ends, just five pages after it starts. This one definitely fit the bill set in the Introduction by making me wonder "and then what happened?" Good story, just not enough.
"Catch and Release," by Lawrence Block, was disturbing. The story of a catch and release fisherman is about a man who lures women and releases them, enjoying the thrill of what could have been. I read this tale engrossed and disgusted, slightly horrified at the thoughts of the psycho. The ending sealed the deal. Interesting concept, well written, but a creepy story.
"Polka Dots and Moonbeams," by Jeffrey Ford, had an old 1920s style feeling to it, and I thought it was very well written. Still, it was rather confusing, and I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I enjoyed the read nonetheless.
"Loser," by Chuck Palahniuk. This was my first taste of Palahniuk's written word, and I was not impressed. The story is about a popular gameshow that is never named but is obvious what it's about. Told through the perspective of a contestant, at first I thought it would be interesting but it quickly soured for me. The ending was predictable as well.
"Samantha's Diary," by Diane Wynne Jones, was dreadfully boring and repetitive. If this would have stopped after the first entry or two I would have been okay, but it went on for several days, and I felt like the story dragged.
"Land of the Lost," by Stewart O'Nan, tells the story of a "missing persons" hunter. The character becomes obsessed with trying to find the body of a missing child, going to great lengths to do so. This story was okay.
"Leif in the Wind," by Gene Wolfe, was a fascinating delve into a sci-fi setting with some odd peculiarities. Slightly confusing, I think this story was very well written and captivating enough to easily finish. I liked this piece.
"Unwell," by Carolyn Parkhurst, was a tale I read with a sideways smile. From the POV of an elderly sister, the character's thoughts and actions are acerbic and rude, but somewhat funny, too. This story was a quick read.
"A Life in Fictions," by Kat Howard, tells about an unnamed/multinamed protagonist that finds herself in very peculiar situations: her boyfriend's writing. This story was a quick read and I thought the idea was well executed.
"Let the Past Begin," by Jonathan Carroll, offers rich imagery and a haunting story about a former journalist. This tale was wonderfully written, and ended with a lasting image that can stick in your mind if you're not careful. An excellent story.
"The Therapist," by Jeffery Deaver. In some ways this story was very good. It's about a therapist who tracks down nemes, a kind of invisible energy force that makes people depressed/angry/etc. And then it's about a murder. Then there's the trial. All of this is well and good, but it seems like the story gets bogged down with too many words from time to time. Still, I really enjoyed this story, and thought the ideas presented were clever and original. This story was longer than most, but it was very good.
"Parallel Lines," by Tim Powers, is another story about sisters and what happens after one of them dies. Not as good as Unwell, it still was an enjoyable short read.
"The Cult of the Nose," by Al Sarrantonio, left me smiling in wonder and intrigue. How real is the Cult of the Nose he presents? It reads as if it is fact, and it almost makes me want to search it out and see if I can find anything myself. This piece was quite short and very fun to read.
"Human Intelligence," by Kurt Anderson, was very interesting and entertaining. The story is about a woman that has always wanted to be an explorer and an enigmatic man that has been living in Chicago for a very long time. Their paths intersect and nothing will ever be the same. I very much liked this story.
"Stories," by Michael Moorcock, became very boring to me in the first couple of pages and I stopped reading it. It was a lengthier short story and I'm not sure what it was going to wind up being about.
"The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon," by Elizabeth Hand, is the longest story in the book, coming in at almost 50 pages. As such, I decided not to read this piece, as a 50 page short story is a bit too long for my liking.
"The Devil on the Staircase," by Joe Hill. This was my first Joe Hill read, though Heart Shaped Box is sitting on my TBR shelf at home. "The Devil on the Staircase" is written is a peculiar form, where the lines of text actually form stair-steps to tell the story. At first I thought this was strange, but after reading the story I wound up liking the method. The tale is alarming and slightly macabre, but I found it rather enjoyable. After finishing I lay and pondered on this for a bit.
There it is, the short story anthology Stories. Out of the twenty-seven pieces, I really enjoyed many of them, but then there were some that did nothing for me. Did the stories succeed in getting me to wonder "...And then what happened?" Aye, many of them did, and one in particular (I'm looking at you Peter Straub). In the end, if you're looking for some quick reading, Stories has plenty to offer. The several tales easily evoke different emotions and reactions, and I enjoyed this tremendously. The full content list is below, with my recommendations boldfaced and italicized.
Blood - Roddy Doyle
Fossil-Figures - Joyce Carol Oates
Wildfire in Manhattan - Joanne Harris
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains - Neil Gaiman
Unbelief - Michael Marshall Smith
The Stars are Falling - Joe R. Lansdale
Juvenal Nyx - Walter Mosley
The Knife - Richard Adams
Weights and Measures - Jodi Picoult
Goblin Lake - Michael Swanwick
Mallon and Guru - Peter Straub
Catch and Release - Lawrence Block
Polka Dots and Moonbeams - Jeffrey Ford
Loser - Chuck Palahniuk
Samantha's Diary - Diane Wynne Jones
Land of the Lost - Stewart O'Nan
Leif in the Wind - Gene Wolfe
Unwell - Carolyn Parkhurst
A Life in Fictions - Kat Howard
Let the Past Begin - Jonathan Carroll
The Therapist - Jeffery Deaver
Parallel Lines - Tim Powers
The Cult of the Nose - Al Sarrantonio
Human Intelligence - Kurt Anderson
Stories - Michael Moorcock
The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon - Elizabeth Hand
The Devil on the Staircase - Joe Hill