In the world of fiction, there exists a certain intangible chasm between what is generally known as ‘genre fiction’ and ‘general’ or even ‘literary fiction’. Many readers expect certain things from the one that they don’t from the other; it is a distinction useful for pigeonholing books, especially for those who prefer one kind of story over the other.
Genre fiction is looked down upon by some as not serious, trivial, lowbrow, but loved by many for its occasional display of imagination, its familiar plot structures, and accessibility. At the other side of the spectrum, literature, so called, also ranges from creative genius to derivative drivel, from the genuinely touching to the sentimental. For true lovers of fiction, then, the distinction between these different pigeonholes can at times come across as artificial and misleading, if not wholly useless.
This is one of the main reasons behind the specific set up of Stories, an anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. They’ve selected a little over two dozen tales for this volume that somehow seek to build bridges between aforementioned kinds of fiction. Their ideal, it appears, is to show that stories told well are just good stories, regardless of whether or not there is any element of the fantastic or grotesque in it. This is a sentiment with which I agree strongly, finding enjoyment in classic literature and modern imaginative fiction alike.
The anthology, however, only mildly supports its own argument. Some of these stories sadly are not able to transcend themselves, remaining bogged down in spiceless fantasy, common manslaughter, or cheesy sentimentality. Thankfully, there are quite a few stories in here that do live up to my expectations, and some examples follow here.
Joyce Carol Oates’s “Fossil Figures” is a vivid and touching tale about two twins, one strong, one weak, and entwined in a lifelong struggle. Neil Gaiman himself is up to steam with “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains”, a timeless folklore-tinged tale of revenge. Joe Lansdale’s “The Stars Are Falling” is a beautiful story on war, love, and death, set on the American frontier. “Goblin Lake” by Michael Swanwick is an entertaining meta-fairytale about the nature of fiction. Diana Wynne Jones’s contribution is a funny tale about The Twelve Days of Christmas actually happening to someone. A pity about the abrupt ending. .. Gene Wolfe’s “Leif in the Wind” is classic sci-fi, but with beautiful poetic imagery. Elizabeth Hand’s “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” is beautiful and quirky, a story about friendship and hope, centered around the restaging of an early attempt of machinary flight. Joe Hill’s “The Devil on the Staircase”, finally, is a typographically interesting tale about love and murder, with strong mythological undertones.
So, while the anthology might have benefited from a little sterner editing and selection to really prove a point, there’s still enough good stuff in here to entertain and inspire. Recommended for all kinds of readers who fancy a peek over the horizon.
[Reviewed for the ABC Blog: ]