Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: Margaret St. Clair, Ed Gorman, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, Ambrose Bierce, Zona Gale, Elizabeth Kostova, Eileen Pollack, Nicholas Delbanco, Laura Kasischke, Keith Taylor: GHOSTS OF THE HEARTLAND edited by Frank McSherry, M. H. Greenberg & Charles Waugh (Rutledge Hill Press 1990); GHOST WRITERS edited by Laura Kasischke and Keith Taylor (Wayne State University Press 2011)

Terror and Even More Regret at the (Northerly) Center of the Contiguous 48...

Ghosts of the Heartland ed. Frank D. McSherry, Jr.Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg (Rutledge Hill Press 1-55853-068-1, Apr ’90, $9.95, 210pp, tp, cover by Harriette Bateman) Anthology of 18 ghost stories set in the Midwest.

  • viii · Can There Be Such Things? Here? · Frank D. McSherry, Jr. · in
  • 1 · But at My Back I Will Always Hear · David Morrell · ss Shadows #6, ed. Charles L. Grant, Doubleday, 1983 (set in Iowa)
  • 18 · Death’s Door · Robert McNear · nv Playboy Mar ’69 (Wisconsin)
  • 40 · Little Jimmy · Lester del Rey · ss The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Apr ’57 (Iowa)
  • 55 · Floral Tribute · Robert Bloch · ss Weird Tales  Jul ’49 (Illinois)
  • 67 · Stillwater, 1896 · Michael Cassutt · ss  Shadows #7, ed. Charles L. Grant, Doubleday, 1984 (Minnesota)
  • 78 · The Boarded Window · Ambrose Bierce · ss San Francisco Examiner Jul 14, 1889 (Ohio)
  • 83 · Listen, Children, Listen! · Wallace West · ss Fantastic Universe Oct/Nov ’53 (Indiana)
  • 96 · Professor Kate · Margaret St. Clair · ss Weird Tales Jan ’51 (Oklahoma)
  • 103 · The Skeleton on Round Island · Mary Hartwell Catherwood · ss Mackinac and Lake Stories, Harpers, 1899 (Michigan)
  • 113 · One for the Crow · Mary Barrett · ss Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Mar ’73 (Missouri)
  • 122 · School for the Unspeakable · Manly Wade Wellman · ss Weird Tales Sep ’37 (North Dakota)
  • 133 · Different Kinds of Dead · Ed Gorman · ss * (first appeared here) (Nebraska)
  • 140 · Deadlights · Charles Wagner · ss Twisted Tales #9 ’84 (Kansas)
  • 149 · The Bridal Pond · Zona Gale · ss The American Mercury Feb ’28; Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Oct ’49 (Wisconsin)
  • 155 · A Wounded Knee Fairy Tale · Craig Kee Strete · ss · Dreams That Burn in the Night, Doubleday, 1982 [published earlier in translation] (South Dakota)
  • 162 · Shaggy Vengeance · Robert Adams · nv Amazing Jul ’84 (North Dakota)
  • 187 · He Walked by Day · Julius Long · ss Weird Tales Jun ’34 (Ohio)
  • 194 · Smoke Ghost · Fritz Leiber · ss Unknown: Fantasy Fiction Oct ’41 (Illinois)
Two volumes, one taking horror and fantasy fiction set in a pretty broad definition of the US midwest, the other collecting original stories set in focusing on veteran writers of the fantastic (with a few comparative dabblers mixed in), the other mostly devoted to those who usually write mimetic fiction (arguably amusingly, the biggest "names" in the Michigan volume are either best-known for horror--Kostova--or have written notable borderline sf--Delbanco). All original stories in the newer book, only Ed Gorman's story newly published in the elder. Not all that surprisingly, and not just because of the similarity of setting and nature of the fiction, not too much dissimilarity of approach or result...even if the first book is much more comfortable with literal ghosts than is the second.

Among the stories in Ghosts of the Heartland:
"Smoke Ghost" by Fritz Leiber is probably the most influential and, frankly, important of the stories collected in this of the founding texts of urban fantasy and what can be termed "modern horror", fully incorporating the existential horror lessons of Lovecraft (and, in a sense, Kafka) and Lovecraft's more slavish followers into a literary context more in tune with the Edwardian and subsequent horror-fiction writers in Britain and such US fellow-travelers as Ambrose Bierce, Stephen Vincent Benet and Conrad Aiken, as well as such fellow contributors to Weird Tales and Unknown as Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, H. R. Wakefield, Algernon Blackwood, Jane Rice, Catherine L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, Ray Bradbury, and Margaret St. Clair, along with other continuing innovators such as Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier and John Collier. Leiber posits that the haunts of industrial Chicago, and thus the world of soot and smoke it sits in, have a new character, new demands on us, no less taxing than the ghosts of yore. The Bloch and Wellman stories are good examples of their work, as well, but less key, if also in Bloch's case from the period of his completely having moved away from writing Lovecraft pastiche and something more fully his own. The St. Clair is a consistently eerie bit of historical horror, suggesting a supernatural fate for the murderous (and mysteriously vanished shortly after discovery of their crimes) "Bender Family" of post-Civil War Kansas. The Bierce is even more a chestnut in anthologies, and for good reason (aside from public domain status), than are the Leiber, Bloch or Wellman stories. 

Less well-known are Ed Gorman's "Different Kinds of Dead", which is a suitably noirish sort of actual ghost story, and Zona Gale's interesting, allusive account of whether or not a certain couple made it past their honeymoon. I've not yet delved into the other stories in the McSherry, Greenberg and Waugh volume; McSherry, in his introduction to the book, made it clear that there were actual Benders that "Professor Kate" is about, which I didn't know till now, though I've had a copy of the January 1951 issue of Weird Tales including that story for some years, and let Prof. Kate Laity know about the story's existence shortly after purchase.

Among the stories in Ghost Writers: Elizabeth Kostova's is the story I've read so far here that most fully embraces the probable supernatural nature of its events, involving a young father and his very young kids' encounter with an avuncular man of seemingly indeterminate but variously-cited great age, who is taking full advantage of his last day of work (he notes) at a low-rent but Disney-like theme park, where every ride has its own ticket. Kostova being easily the best-known writer in the book, due to her historical horror fiction, it's somewhat unsurprising that she is least afraid of having this benevolent possible jokester and probable actual ghost lean in that direction. Nicholas Delbanco's typically eloquent prose is put in service of a consideration of historical injustice, as well as a refurbished house with raccoon squatters; Eileen Pollack's story seems likely to endorse its supernatural nature, up through a long infodump about the nature of the late, controversial priest at the heart of the narrative, but takes a turn toward the all too human monstrosities that priest both suffered and inflicted, as well as those her protagonist's family and her husband's had faced in varying ways, most tellingly during World War 2--the story so far that makes the most hay with the authoritarian "militias" arising in Michigan over the last half-century or so. 

Editors Laura Kasischke and Keith Taylor seem a bit 
more playful with the boundaries of mimetic and fantastic fiction (and Taylor with crime fiction as well); Kasischke's protagonist isn't at all sure that some very potent marijuana wasn't responsible for her vision of ghosts, one of whom is stealing one of her old dresses meant for charity donation; Taylor's involves some fairly rural and provincial teachers, in to Detroit for the day as chaperones for students on a job fair, and particularly for one a somewhat sinister passage through an art gallery and an even more sinister encounter on the drive home, shared with two colleagues. So far, in average quality in this book is at a disadvantage, not being able to tap riches going back most of a century like the other, but not so much that I won't read further in this solid anthology, as well. (Keith Taylor the co-editor isn't the Australian fantasist Keith Taylor aka "Dennis More" and other bylines, nor the English horror-adventure novelist Keith Taylor, nor even the 1940s UK fanzine editor/publisher Keith Taylor, but the Canadian-born, US writer and retired professor of English at Wayne State, I gather spoken very highly of by former student Megan Abbott, among others.)


Jerry House said...

Ah, the Bloody Benders. They were fictionalized in Manly Wade Wellman's CANDLE OF THE WICKED. Probably also in other books and stories by various authors, but Wellman's is the one that sticks in my mind. Another interesting take on the Benders is William Bolitho's "Old Man Bender's Orchard," which is included in Anthony Boucher's THE POCKET BOOK OF TRUE CRIME STORIES.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks for the pointers, Jerry! Ever read the St. Clair?

George said...

Once again you've come up with some books I never knew existed! I like ghost stories so I'll be hunting online for these appealing volumes! Thanks for the heads up!

Todd Mason said...

Well, George, I'm slightly surprised you missed the McSherry regional ghost-story series, but it was in "quality" paperback from its smallish publisher, never touched the mass-market racks. Conversely, I think GHOST WRITERS might even have flown under Patti's radar while she was still working at Wayne State...did not get a hefty push anywhere, I don't think, though it is nicely packaged (digest-sized trade paper, don't think there was a hardcover).