Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: In tribute to Shirley Jackson and Cornell Woolrich: Anthologies of new fiction: WHEN THINGS GET DARK edited by Ellen Datlow (Titan/Penguin 2021); BLACK AS THE NIGHT edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Titan/Penguin 2022)

4 October 2022
Black as the Night: Stories Inspired by Cornell Woolrich 
edited by Maxim Jakubowski * 448 pp.
Introduction/Maxim Jakubowski
Neil Gaiman/A Woolrich Appreciation
Joel Lane/The Black Window (poem)
Joseph S. Walker/A Shade Darker Than Gray
Vaseem Khan/A Thin Slice of Heaven
Charles Ardai/Sleep! Sleep! Beauty Bright
Kim Newman/Black Window
O'Neil De Noux/Blue Moon Over Burgundy
Paul Di Filippo/The Bride Hated Champagne
James Grady/Eyes Without a Face
Donna Moore/First You Dream, Then You Die
M. W. Craven/Institutional Memory
Ana Teresa Pereira/Looking For You Through the Gray Rain
Joe R. Lansdale/Missing Sister
William Boyle/New York Blues Redux
Kristine Kathryn Rusch/Our Opera Singer
Mason Cross/People You May Know
David Quantick/Red
Lavie Tidhar/The Case of Baby X
Tara Moss/The Husband Machine
Warren Moore/The Jacket
A.K. Benedict/The Lake, the Moon, and the Murder
Bill Pronzini/The Long Way Down
Nick Mamatas/The Man in the Sailor Suit
Max Décharné/The Woman at the Late Show
Martin Edwards/The Woman Who Never Was
Samantha Lee Howe/Trophy Wife
Brandon Barrows/Two Wrongs
Maxim Jakubowski/What Happens After the End
Susi Holliday/The Invitation
James Sallis/Parkview
and, in comments, Maxim Jakubowski notes that another story has been added:
Barry N. Malzberg/Phantom Gentleman
...and the further good news that he's contracted with Titan for a tribute anthology in honor of J.G. Ballard to be published in 2023...

• anthology edited by Ellen Datlow
Titan Books, a line from Penguin/Random House, is clearly in the tributes business, and one could only wish these two were published more closely together, as the overlap in audience between those who love the work of Jackson and of Woolrich is not one of unanimity, but it can't be too far from it. Both are best remembered for their work in the outré, suspense and horror and simply charged narratives full of emotion usually in full disarray in Woolrich's fiction, in incompletely controlled cloaking frequently in Jackson's. Even the work they are less well-remembered for, "Jazz Age" stories in The Smart Set for Woolrich and book-length collections of humorous accounts of family life for Jackson, can be seen to have some similar spirit...and similar undertones. 

So, a heads-up for the forthcoming Jakubowski anthology (I suspect [incorrectly...see comments] there are advance readers copies about) and a brief review of some of the stories in the Datlow, a book I've had on hand for on a busy few weeks.

M. Rickert's "Funeral Birds" leads off the fiction, and certainly seeks to fulfill what Datlow describes as called for in her introduction, stories which are not pastiches of Jackson but which incorporate her interest in how the mundane details of daily life and behavior can both mask and drive madness and despair. A thoroughly unlikable home health aide attends the funeral of her recent client, and an after-funeral get-together at her former charge's daughter's house. She finds that perhaps her relation with the departed isn't finished. Rickert does revel in the physical details of the aide's life and eccentric passage through it.

Elizabeth Hand's "For Sale by Owner" digs even more deeply into  Jacksonian exploration of the notion of the invasion of the houses of others, and how the domiciles can return the "favor". Elegant prose, including some that verges on "real-estate porn", as well as an engaging exploration of the friendship of the middle-aged women protagonists, who find over the course of the story a shared attraction to wandering into and through the New England summer houses belonging to others...and what might make that more dangerous than a lark, quite aside from random police checks and the like. How many of us have first read Jackson via "The Summer People", "The Lovely House" or The Haunting of Hill House? Probably relatively few compared to those who first encountered "The Lottery", but I was finding her work in explicitly supernatural horror anthologies first, and "The Lottery" came a year or so later, not too long before such lighter stories as "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts" in my first Best from [the Magazine of] Fantasy and Science Fiction volume. 

Carmen Maria Machado's "A Hundred Miles and a Mile" is an allusive story about the passing on of what might be secret wisdom, and certainly is at least we can be the bearers of such without fully knowing it, and how carrying it with us doesn't necessarily make our lives easier. 

Joyce Carol Oates's "Take Me, I am Free" is also allusive, but in a more emotionally brutal manner, unrelenting as it limns a certain kind of too-common child abuse as well as drawing in some implications of something beyond that quotidian evil. I suspect Andrew Vachss would've admired if not also loved this one, and he would be correct.

The design of the book as a whole is handsome, and the custom endpapers, fetishizing the style of eyeglass frames Jackson wore in her photographs even more than the jacket/cover art does (as do the story headers), are an amusing touch. Sadly, the copy I first received from a certain Bad Place to Work was rather less-well-"built", as was the replacement I ordered--both had warped boards, and not the firmest binding I've found on a hardcover; I hope a certain source got a bad batch or treated it roughly, rather than all the first printing sharing the same flaws. (In comments below, Ellen Datlow notes she hasn't heard this plaint till now, which I take to be a good sign...and an argument for picking up a copy through an independent or other brick and mortar store, if practical and safe. I do prefer seeing the condition of my copies before I buy them.)

Definitely a book worth having. 

More to come...

For more of today's Short Story Wednesday reviews, 


Datlow said...

Hi Todd-most publishers try to not publish too many anthologies in one year as the market can't sustain them. It occasionally happens, but not often, but never that I can think of -doing two tribute anthologies in one year.
Sorry to hear the binding on your book was bad--I haven't heard from other readers having that problem, so hopefully your two copies are exceptions.

Todd Mason said...

I certainly hope so, as well, Ellen! Thanks for the information, and it's a sad state of affairs, from an old short fiction lover such as myself, that publishing these two volumes in quicker succession wouldn't lead to them supporting each other in the market. Albeit they are being aimed at somewhat different audiences...while, as noted above, I suspect their natural audiences will/would have a high overlap.

Maxim Jakubowski said...

The Woolrich anthology has only just been delivered. There is an additional story that came in late, now included : 'Phantom Gentleman' by Barry N Malzberg; The book is inly just being copy-edited and there won't be advance proofs for a few months yet, and it is being published October 2022, a whole year following Ellen's Shirley Jackson volume. I have also signed a contract for a JG Ballatd tribiute volume for 2023 publication.

TracyK said...

Both of these anthologies sound wonderful, Todd. I would probably be more interested in the Cornell Woolrich tribute. The stories in When Things Get Dark would be too dark and chilling for me, I think. I like the cover on that one very much.

Todd Mason said...

Those I've sampled so far might make it worth your while, Tracy...spaced out, perhaps (reading some of Jackson's RAISING DEMONS between the stories).

Thanks, Maxim, for the timelines and further good news...looking forward to both anthologies.

Datlow said...

Some are very dark and subtletly chilling, but none are graphically horrific, if that makes a difference (that I can recall anyway :-) )

TracyK said...

You are probably correct, Ellen. I will take a chance on the book and expand my horizons.