Sunday, September 4, 2011
50 States of Horror
American Supernatural Tales, edited by S.T. Joshi (2007)
"The Adventure of the German Student" by Washington Irving
"Edward Randolph's Portrait" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
"The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe
"What Was It?" by Fitz-James O'Brien
"The Death of Halpin Frayser" by Ambrose Bierce
"The Yellow Sign" by Robert W. Chambers
"The Real Right Thing" by Henry James
"Old Garfield's Heart" by Robert E. Howard
"The Call of Cthulhu" by H. P. Lovecraft
"The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" by Clark Ashton Smith
"Black Bargain" by Robert Bloch
"The Lonesome Place" by August Derleth
"The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" by Fritz Leiber
"The Fog Horn" by Ray Bradbury
"A Visit" by Shirley Jackson
"Long Distance Call" by Richard Matheson
"The Vanishing American" by Charles Beaumont
"The Events at Poroth Farm" by T. E. D. Klein
"Night Surf" by Stephen King
"The Late Shift" by Dennis Etchison
"Vastarien" by Thomas Ligotti
"Endless Night" by Karl Edward Wagner
"The Hollow Man" by Norman Partridge
"Last Call for the Sons of Shock" by David J. Schow
"Demon" by Joyce Carol Oates
"In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888)" by Caitlin R. Kiernan
S.T. Joshi has been at the forefront of critical and academic evaluations and re-evaluations of American horror stories for the last 20 years, most notably in the field of Lovecraft studies. American Supernatural Tales has a list of writers it's mostly hard to argue with (OK, I'd argue against the inclusion of August Derleth and for the inclusion of Edith Wharton, whom Joshi dismisses as a Henry James imitator). OK, I'd also leave out Charles Beaumont. And where's Thomas Disch?
The trick with one of these anthologies is to somehow balance the unfamiliar with the familiarly essential, all within the confines of one volume. Virtually all the writers here really are signposts on the road of American horror fiction. Some represent a problem because of the sheer volume of their output; others do not.
"The Yellow Sign" by Robert W. Chambers, for instance, really is pretty much the only story one could choose from this prolific writer of a century ago, introducing as it does the trope of the Forbidden Book into American horror. "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" by Clark Ashton Smith is a fine selection from a writer who could supply any one of at least 20 stories for this volume. Henry James's "The Real Right Thing" works as an example of how James used the ghost story for psychological reasons -- and really didn't scare anybody outside of "The Turn of the Screw."
This is a great place to start if one hasn't read much horror fiction, American or otherwise. Modern masters such as Caitlin Kiernan and Thomas Ligotti get fairly representative examples. King's "Night Surf," a dry run for The Stand, seems a bit out-of-place, as does Robert Bloch's frankly goofy "Black Bargain," which has not aged all that well. Still, there's a wealth of supernatural fiction here -- solid stories, names to follow, decent biographical and historical information. Highly recommended.