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September 18, 2021

3 Anthologies to Read This Fall

by MK French


The leaves are changing and the weather has a bit of a crisp chill. It is the perfect time for horror and speculative fiction. Fall often means busy schedules car pick-up lines and afterschool activities. Short stories are a great way to squeeze in a bit of "me time" while waiting on the kids. 

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Weird Women: Volume 2: 1840-1925: Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers. edited by Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger

Weird Women
September 2021; Pegasus Books; 978-1643137834
ebook, print (384 pages); horror

This collection stars famous women of literature, who wrote not just their great works but these short stories with spooky atmospheres. This includes stories by George Eliot, Zora Neale Hurston, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edith Wharton, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Vernon Lee, Florence Marryat, and Margaret Oliphant. Vampires, mesmerism, witches, ghosts, and demons all feature, and the stories are annotated for modern readers. As our editors say, “A good story doesn’t have an expiration date.”

We open with Anna Maria Hall’s “The Drowned Fisherman,” written with the cadence of local speech as a fisherman brings his son with him on a rickety boat despite his wife’s uneasy feeling. Rather than follow him, the story follows his wife Kate. She fears the worst but won’t stop them from going out, and spends the night in the company of her son’s sweetheart, mending and doing what she could to keep her fears at bay. Kate isn’t the one that her son appears to when he drowns, and Stacia eventually comes to live with her. 

George Eliot’s “The Lifted Veil” is a lengthy story that follows, written with the level of detail that most books written in the 1800s have. The aristocratic narrator can sense others’ thoughts and see some distance into the future but is unable to change it from happening. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “The Ghost in the Mill” was also included in her 1872 collection of short stories featuring the Oldtown character Sam Lawson.

We have ghost stories of different kinds here: a mysterious figure trying to take away a bride, a woman’s spirit trying to take a baby to replace the one that was killed, a man willing to revisit death on others after he died, and the Spirit of Life speaking to a woman after her own death. They’re not always scary, it’s more that the spirits are real things, with weight and ability to affect the living as if they were living themselves. The opening stories pave the way for the rest of the collection, with some spirits pushing past the boundaries of death to visit the living. Not all of them are to do harm, after all, and the woman in Edith Wharton’s entry will wait for however long it takes to keep her husband company again even though he’s not her soulmate because she’s his.

My favorite story is Mrs. Oliphant’s “The Library Window,” and not just because it mentions a lot of books! It starts off rather mundane, with a discussion whether a window is still in use, painted over or bricked over years ago; our narrator soon can see clearly that it is indeed a usable window, even if others can’t tell. Given the kind of collection this story is in, it’s a quietly creepy atmosphere that gets more intense over time.

Whoever believes that the Victorian or Gilded Age writers couldn’t do horror or spooky themes is sadly mistaken. Once you're accustomed to the literary allusions and writing style of the period, it's clear that these women have an incredible imagination and command of the creepy.

Buy Weird Women vol 2 at Amazon

When Things Get Dark edited by Ellen Datlow

When Things Get Dark
September 2021; Titan Books; 978-1789097153
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); horror

Authors Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman, Carmen Maria Machado, Paul Tremblay, Richard Kadrey, Stephen Graham Jones, Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Cassandra Khaw, Karen Heuler, Benjamin Percy, John Langan, Laird Barron, Jeffrey Ford, M. Rickert, Seanan McGuire, Gemma Files, and Genevieve Valentine have all contributed to this collection inspired by Shirley Jackson. She is known best for her poignant stories, which fall under spooky or horror genres. Her stories have all involved strong emotions, dysfunctional families, and hauntings. The pain in her stories, even if they're caused by the supernatural, still rings true for the reader.

We open with M. Rickert's "Funeral Birds," where a home health care aide attends the funeral of one of the women she cared for. It isn't exactly what we think had happened, and every little detail makes Lenore and Delores really feel real over the course of the story. In a similar vein, the next few stories pair the everyday domesticity of homes with a spark of the supernatural, whether an empty house forever for sale or a lake house that hadn't been visited for years. Their oddness isn't seen, only implied; as with many cases where the supernatural could be involved, it's the eerie sensation of something's off that implies their presence. Even in stories that don't have a distinct sense of the supernatural, like Joyce Carol Oates' "Take Me, I Am Free" or Josh Malerman's "Special Meal," the dysfunction between people is painful and utterly heartbreaking, just as some of Shirley Jackson's stories had been.

What strikes me as a commonality, aside from the supernatural and relationship elements in each story, is the use of liminal spaces. Much of the creepy and weird feelings hover at the edges of the stories, what the characters don't question, or what feels just out of sync with their usual reality. That makes some of these stories really linger in the back of my mind - like they're creating a space of their own in my memory. For stories inspired by Shirley Jackson's style, this is a high compliment indeed.

Buy When Things Get Dark at Amazon

We're Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2020 edited by Charles Payseur

We're Here
August 2021; Neon Hemlock Press; 978-1952086274
print (264 pages); speculative fiction

This is a collection of sixteen stories written by queer authors in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres in 2020. Various tropes are taken on and given a twist, focusing on queer characters and themes.

We open with Gabriela Santiago's "Escaping Dr. Markoff," told in second person and start/stop film terms. Second person is tricky to get right, but this works well because of the nonlinear format. The only constant is "you," with the love interest changing in the context of which scene is going forward or backward, the story written and rewritten back and forth. This is certainly reflected in the queer experience, with learning and relearning the self, and changing the traditional story. This is reflected in further stories, where the apocalypse is the backdrop for change, a magic and true crime podcast debates the reality of an internet phenomenon's death, a museum describes an art movement cut short by the Nazi occupation of France, or excavating at an archaeological site also excavates memories pre-transition.

With these stories, it's a question of connection with others, finding the self, and making positive changes for the future. Whether it's a fantasy setting, a sci-fi one on a distant moon, or a watery apocalypse, it's the connection between people that saves them from disasters. It doesn't even have to be romantic love, but it's reaching out and recognizing that other people, regardless of their situation, are still human and in need of help. I really like that message, especially in the context of the pandemic and the literal rage that often gets thrown at queer people. Even if a world is ending, there is still hope in these stories, and I really appreciate that.

Buy We're Here at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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