Wednesday, October 21, 2020

SHORT STORY WEDNESDAYS: Avram Davidson, Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar, Donald Barthelme, T. V. Olsen, David R. Bunch, Barry Malzberg, Jay Kinney

 the October country: three magazine (October) issues and a book, relatively recent purchases, which I delve into in small part.

Avram Davidson's "Revolver" leads off this issue of EQMM, and while it's definitely missed in the crime-fiction retrospective collection The Investigations of Avram Davidson, among the welcome host of stories one does find there, that was in large part because it's one of the least-known stories sapiently gathered in the slightly earlier and rather larger The Avram Davidson Treasury (Bill Pronzini was tapped to write the introduction to the story in that volume). Utterly picaresque black humor as it traces the interlocking lives of several denizens of the slums of New York City on an eventful afternoon...a quickly-stolen pistol, a new purchase by a slumlord named Mason (a sure sign of perfidy) being not the only revolving aspect of the tale.

"The People Across the Canyon" by Margaret Millar is a horror story, or what Frederic Dannay tagged a "tale of the preternatural" in his blurb, which was otherwise mostly devoted to a quoted passage from the story. It's a deft one, as might be expected of Millar, featuring a rather fully realized dysfunctional but operational family of three, two middle-aged parents and their young daughter, and what happens when their exurban home gains some new neighbors...and their daughter gains some new playmates. 

And an old favorite story, if "favorite" is quite the right word, Patricia Highsmith's "The Terrapin" made its debut in this issue, which Dannay refers to as "an odd and thoroughly fascinating story"--true enough, haunting, a sure ringing of changes on the same sort of tale of sustained betrayal of a child as Saki's "Sredni Vashtar", only with even more agonizing detail provided (a certain pair of 1959 novels come to mind as well, though perhaps mostly because the films drawn from them are getting a workout on our movie channels--Psycho and The Haunting of Hill House...
though, of course, parental abuse is slightly less front and center in those). Two years later, the fantasy and sf magazine Gamma would publish "The Snail Watcher", despite it being neither fantasy nor sf--I think the later story has the slight edge, but these two are, I believe, the most widely read of her short stories, and there's little mystery as to why. Almost certainly, it's no accident that Millar, Davidson and Highsmith's names are the first three on the cover array.

The October 1970 issue of Fantastic features as half its text the apparently unreprinted novella "The Crimson Witch", from the period that Dean Koontz was primarily a fantasy and sf writer, rather than, as in more recent decades, more often a suspense and to a lessening degree a horror novelist. David Wright O'Brien, one of the brighter stars of the Ray Palmer era of Fantastic Adventures and Amazing Stories, and one of the relatively few U.S. writers for the sf and fantasy magazines to die in service in World War 2, has the second-longest story in the issue with his 1941 FA reprint, "Spook for Yourself". I've yet to read either of these, but suspect I'll like the O'Brien story better...and the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable Koontz fans I've known, Ed Gorman and Ian Covell, both are no longer in a position to know or speculate why Koontz hasn't done anything more with this long story. Jeff Jones's interior illustrations for the story rather better than Gray Morrow's generic sword and sorcery cover painting, with Caroline Negretti's lettering and design. 

"A Glance at the Past" is also a reprinted story, but this is unacknowledged in the issue, perhaps because editor Ted White and publisher Sol Cohen were unaware of the fact...this relatively early example of David R. Bunch's stories of Moderan (and in this case the neighboring nation of Olderan, where people eschewed replacing as much of their bodies as possible with chrome and plastic cybernetics) was first in Diversion magazine in 1959; Bunch's arch but usually cleverly so stories were a staple of Cele Goldsmith Lalli's and subsequent editors' Fantastic and Amazing, up through White's reign, and tended to vignette length, making their points (whether Moderan stories or otherwise) and bowing out. Dan Adkins's illustration gives away a bit of the punch of this one, but it's a punch that would be most surprising only to those who hadn't ever read a Moderan story before...still, a graceful and amusing exercise. (New York Review Books's classics series reprinted the collection Moderan in 2018.)

Barry Malzberg's "As Between Generations" is closer to metaphor and fable than fantasy as it's usually construed, another tale of the dysfunction between, in this case, son and father, the small resentments unforgotten over the course of years, the damages wrought in both directions by the careless or only incidentally spiteful act or words. Malzberg (whose middle initial, N., is typo'd on the cover), after his short term as editor of the magazines, remained another stalwart contributor to Fantastic and Amazing throughout White's years and beyond. His no bones about it horror story "Prowl" in this magazine eight years later deals with similar matter less head-on.

Fritz Leiber's first books column in several issues appears, as in the interregnum Leiber's wife, Jonquil, had died.

Jay Kinney's "2000 A. D. Man", I believe the first comic (or comix) strip to appear in Fantastic (early issues included some of Gahan Wilson's earliest single-panel cartoons to be professionally published, among less impressive panels) is amiable if slight...Spiro Agnew and Mark Rudd are among the nation's fearless leaders to come between 1970 and 2000...

Donald Barthelme's "Great Days" is a set of interlocking bits of dialog, apparently, which can be interpreted a number of ways, but I suspect we are to understand this is the interior dialog of a man who has collapsed in the street and is being dealt with by first responders, imagining or recalling scattered bits of a conversation or conversations with his womanfriend or wife of long standing. Exactly the kind of story which will, in its resistance to being a coherent and clear narrative, annoy the hell out of some of my acquaintances who are impatient with his more pellucid work. This story lent its title to Barthelme's penultimate collection published during his lifetime, which featured some similar free-associational dialogs among more conventional prose. 

      T. V. Olsen's "The Strange Valley" was the first western short story I read, as anthologized in Nora Kramer's 1972 Scholastic Books anthology The Ghostly Hand and Other Haunting Stories, which I believe to have been the second satisfying horror assembly I was to find, as an 8yo, I believe in the classroom library in my Enfield, CT, elementary school, and the first then-recent one, as I tore through it in 1973. I've finally gotten around to investing in inexpensive copies of that book and the 1968 Scholastic hardcover mostly original-fiction anthology Great Ghost Stories of the Old West, edited by Betty Baker, the Olsen story's first publication site. It's a deftly told but relatively familiar story, for most adult readers who have read much in the way of horror fiction, and only slightly overindulges in having the three young men of the Sioux nation, visiting an odd, desolate spot in a nearby valley, speak without any contractions, or their equivalent in Sioux. As they discuss the odd apparition one saw a couple of nights before, in 1876, it or something like it appears again. And in 1968 or thereabouts, two 18-wheel truck drivers, one the grandson of one of the 1876 Sioux, have their own odd encounter. Western writers are often drawn, when writing crossover western/horror, to mysterious time-displacement stories, and not so very surprisingly. It was certainly the most impressive story in the book to me at the time...Baker was happy with it as well, leading off her volume with it.

    Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine [v40 #4, #227, October 1962] ed. Ellery Queen (Davis Publications, Inc., 40¢, 132pp, digest)
    Details supplied by Douglas Greene.
    • 5 · Revolver · Avram Davidson · ss
    • 16 · Murder to the Twist · Pat McGerr · vi
    • 20 · The Talking Tree · George Sumner Albee · ss
    • 32 · The People Across the Canyon · Margaret Millar · ss
    • 45 · Mooney versus Cat · Michael Zuroy · ss
    • 50 · Beyond a Reasonable Doubt · Edgar Pangborn · ss
    • 61 · Best Mysteries of the Month · Anthony Boucher · br
    • Briefly discussed:
    • The Edge of Eden by Dick Pearce
    • The Love Thieves by Peter Packer
    • Lizzie Borden: The Untold Story by Edward D. Radin (nf)
    • The Trial of Dr. Adams by Sybille Bedford (nf)
    • The Will of the Tribe by Arthur W. Upfield
    • Counterweight by Daniel Broun
    • The Crabtree Affair by Michael Innes
    • The Evil Wish by Jean Potts
    • and the then-current Ace Double crime fiction releases en masse
    • 62 · Green Goose Chase · Veronica Parker Johns · ss
    • 72 · The Last Answer · Hal Ellson · ss
    • 76 · The Walewska Cross · Dorothy Fletcher · ss
    • 87 · A Matter of Judgment · K. T. Edwards · ss
    • 90 · Mystery Hardcovers of the Month · [Various] · br
    • 90 · Mystery Paperbacks of the Month · [Various] · br
    • 91 · Any Man’s Death · Paul W. Fairman · ss
    • 99 · The Terrapin · Patricia Highsmith · ss
    • 111 · Murder at Merryoak · Margaret Austin · ss

    Fantastic [v20 #1, October 1970] ed. Ted White (Ultimate Publications, Inc., 60¢, 148pp, digest, cover by Gray Morrow and Caroline Negretti)

For more of today's Short Story Wednesday posts, please see 


Rich Horton said...

I'm tempted to suggest that maybe Koontz claims "The Crimson Witch" was written by an impostor using his name! :)

Todd Mason said...

Ha! There is a bit of history to that, both in Koontz's history (much, as you might remember, to Ian Covell's irritation) and in FANTASTIC' the best-selling issue of any English-language fantastic fiction magazine so far probably still remains the early issue of FANTASTIC with Howard Browne's ghosted "Mickey Spillane" story in it...

Jerry House said...

As a matter of serendipity I just picked up the Kramer book at a thrift store this afternoon. (I had read the Baker ghost story anthology years ago.) I had also read the EQMM and FANTASTIC issue when they came out. I hadn't realized that THE CRIMSON WITCH had not been reprinted; perhaps that's just as well.

Todd Mason said...

I'll take that as a gentle warning, Jerry.

Cullen Gallagher said...

Off to track down "An Avram Davidson Treasury" — "Revolver" sounds like my kind of story. Thanks!

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

"Great Ghost Stories of the Old West" would be my pick, especially since it appears to have an "old west" feel to it.

TracyK said...

I have read the Margaret Millar story, The People across the Canyon, in a Crippen & Landru collection of her stories. Spooky, but I liked it a lot. I wish I had a copy of that Ellery Queen Magazine.

Todd Mason said...

Tracy--that's, as Jackie Kashian notes in such circumstances, an attainable goal! There are dealers who will sell you issues of EQMM of that vintage in good condition for around $3-6...I wouldn't pay more than ten at most, since someone else will do better business with you.

Well, Prashant, it's pitched to younger readers, but the Baker anthology does have a nice mix of not at all negligible old pros at western fiction contributing. I'll probably give it a full review soon...or very soon!

Cullen, I won't be at all abashed to have nudged you toward purchase of THE AVRAM DAVIDSON TREASURY. Hope it hooks you, if you aren't already...there are a great number more of excellent books awaiting you from him. Though, as with Damon Knight or Stanley Ellin, his short fiction tends to eclipse his novels, though also as with Knight, there are some worthy novels in the mix, such as MASTERS OF THE MAZE and his late collaboration with Grania Davis, MARCO POLO AND THE SLEEPING WOMAN. THE PHOENIX AND THE MIRROR doesn't quite rise to what it should be, though it's certainly his most ambitious novel...THE ENQUIRIES OF DOCTOR ESZTERHAZY, and the expanded THE ADVENTURES OF DR. E, are two collections of linked stories that certainly function much as a novel could, and particularly the first set is brilliant. LIMEKILLER! not too far behind, the same way.