Sunday, February 26, 2006

Review: 100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories

100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories edited by Al Sarrantonio and Martin H. Greenberg. Highly recommended.

The best horror fiction is subtle. This point is missed by the producers of today's horror films, in which blood and gore—and the anticipation thereof—have become a substitute for the storytelling art and the art of horror.

Horror can be the ordinary or the possible, taken one step further. Sometimes it is allusive, so that the reader is told, more or less, what happened but not how. Fiction like that of Edgar Allen Poe finds its roots in common fears and foibles of the human psyche stretched to unimaginable ends (for example, guilt in "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat"). In other stories, the ending, or what happens next, is left to the reader's imagination. The author plants the seed and fertilizes it, but leaves the reader to reap it.

In 100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories, Sarrantonio and Greenberg have captured the essence of horror fiction at its best—its subtlety and its interactivity with the reader's mind and emotions. In some, supernatural or science fiction elements play a role, but not at the expense of the psychology. In many of these, the reader must decide how reliable the narrator is.

In stories like "Ants" by Chet Williamson, the commonplace becomes the unthinkable. "Examination Day" twists one of the worst fears a schoolchild has into a parent's nightmare, while making a political statement. In several stories, the abuse inflicted on children are turned back upon the parents, guardians, or peers—or are they? Examples include "Holly, Don't Tell" by Juleen Brantingham; "Moving Night" by Nancy Holder; "Making Friends" by Gary Raisor; and "Sredni Vashtar" by Saki. "In the Corn" by Robert Fox is memorable for its setting, the naïveté and vulnerability of its protagonist, and the situations that lie behind and ahead of him.

A story like "The Grab" by Richard Laymon deceives the reader by presenting several twists; the game is not what it appears to be at first, and that makes the players' attitude toward it as shown at the end even more horrifying.

In real life, sometimes there are crimes that seem inexplicable until the culprits are caught and their depravity shown. In "Down by the Sea near the Great Big Rock" by Joe R. Lansdale, another explanation is revealed—or is it?

A few stories combine horror and whimsy, including "The Adventures of My Grandfather" by Washington Irving, "The Kirk Spook" by E. G. Swain, and "The Disintegration of Alan" by Melissa Mia Hall. "Fish Night" by Joe R. Lansdale is beautiful and haunting, with an ending that should not surprise but does. In some cases, though, the horror lies in the tale's realism, for example, "The Upturned Face" by Stephen Crane and "Night Deposits" by Chet Williamson.

100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories is a marvelous anthology of the genre. In only a few words and a few pages, each gifted author establishes well-drawn settings, scenarios, and characters, and then sets the reader up for an experience that ranges from amusing but disquieting to disturbing and terrifying. Many of these stories reminded me of the best of 1950s and 1960s television, such as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Outer Limits. If you appreciate the subtlety, the tautness, and the art of the well-written horror story, you must read this anthology.

Sunday, 26 February 2006.
© 2006 by Diane L. Schirf.

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