Wednesday, March 10, 2021

SHORT STORY WEDNESDAY: HANGING BY A THREAD edited by Joan Kahn (Houghton Mifflin 1969)

index from ISFDB, slightly augmented

Even at this late date, it's difficult to label the anthologies of Joan Kahn as obscure, given her importance throughout her career as an editor of crime fiction, most famously at Harper and Row, and not trivially at the end of her career at St. Martins. But it might well be that the significance of her career as a novel and otherwise publisher's editor has tended to overshadow her double-handful of anthologies aimed at adult and YA readers, as good and eclectic as they could be--she was one of the few who regularly mixed in not only historical fiction and classics of formerly contemporary mimetic and adventure fiction with the more straightforward crime and horror fiction in her suspense-oriented anthologies, but would also include true-crime and some other historical accounts...not too many other anthologists of her day would include Tacitus in translation cheek by jowl with Helen Eustis and John D. MacDonald. Nor any of these mixed in with an excerpt from Thor Heyerdahl and Kon-Tiki. In some ways, what we have here is a very fat, well-bound magazine issue, sans ads or illustration. 

I liked, thus, the Kahn anthologies I read when in my second decade, but not as much as I loved somewhat similarly eclectic (but usually fiction-only, aside from introductions, afterwords, notes on the texts and contributors) anthologies from the likes of Robert Arthur or Harold Q. Masur (often ghosting their work for Alfred Hitchcock-branding), Bill Pronzini, Barry Malzberg, the early years of Martin H. Greenberg, and such prolific editors of anthologies mostly for young readers as Helen Hoke, Betty M. Owen, Seon Manley and Gogo Lewis, and the energetic (and relatively uneven, perhaps as a result) editor for adults and younger readers Peter Haining and, also published in the US by Taplinger ahead of other imprints, the less prolific and perhaps thereby more consistent Hugh Lamb...but there were always reasons to be glad one had a Kahn anthology in one's hands or at least on a convenient shelf. 

And yet this one escaped me altogether in those years, despite my snapping up any anthology likely to contain actual horror fiction (as opposed to all those annoying, ill-written John Canning and similar "true weird tales" volumes of enjoyable an early, sleazy read as Emile Schurmacher's Strange Unsolved Mysteries was). It's just arrived today, and in it is only the second short story I've managed to stumble across from Henry Cecil [Leon, his apparent full legal name, used in his primary career as a judge]...after reading his "Proof" when I was 8yo in Kathleen Lines's The House of the Nightmare and Other Eerie Tales (itself including a slightly annoying short set of "true" supernatural tales among its pages, but forgiven)...if I like this crime story, as I take it to be, nearly as much as the matter-of-fact horror story that is "Proof", I shall be forced to finally make a serious effort to find his own books all these decades later. 

The familiar stories here, such excellences and happy memories as Jorge Luis Borges's "El fin"/"The End", James Thurber's "A Sort of Genius", the Hammett and even the more endlessly reprinted than actually good Bulwer-Lytton (Lines titled her next YA horror anthology for it) are mixed in with the promise of Algis Budrys's early sf story, from Astounding Science Fiction during his years in John Campbell's stable and his first volume of short stories, The Unexpected Dimension (which I belatedly read half of before it went into a storage box for the changing of one apartment for another), the very dimly familiar Wells and Crane stories (skimmed? seen/heard adapted? had to return the library book before I got to them? did I simply miss, say, the Bowen or the McCoy in not seeking out their collections?) and all the others...

It's an odd telescopic trip through some of my earliest and latest reading. I'm glad to have it. 


Cullen Gallagher said...

How is the Helen Eustis novelette? I enjoyed her novel The Horizontal Man.

Todd Mason said...

Haven't read it yet! The book literally arrived yesterday afternoon. Eustis one of Kahn's favorite writers. Will report!

Kelly Robinson said...

I've never read any of Horace McCoy's short stories, but man, do I like his novels.

Todd Mason said...

At least a couple of his novels are easy to like or hard not to respect...but he had a series of shorter works in BLACK MASK among other pulps and ESQUIRE among better-pay markets, to go with the likes of THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY?