edited by Mike Baker and Martin H. Greenberg
(New York: DAW Books, Inc., 2000)
Paperback, 303 Pages, Short Fiction Anthology
ISBN: 9780886779146, US$6.99
From the Cover:What do today’s top horror writers read-and why? This was the question posed to some of the most influential authors in the field today. This book is their answer. Here are fifteen of the most memorable stories in the genre, each one personally selected by a well-known writer, and each prefaced by that writer’s explanation of his or her choice. Here’s your chance to enjoy familiar favorites, and perhaps to discover some wonderful treasures. In each case, you’ll have the opportunity to see the story from the perspective of a master of the field.
This collection contains the following stories: “Sweets to the Sweet” by Robert Bloch chosen by Stephen King, “The Father-Thing” by Philip K. Dick chosen by Ed Gorman, “The Distributor” by Richard Matheson chosen by F. Paul Wilson, “A Warning to the Curious” by M.R. James chosen by Ramsey Campbell, “Opening the Door” by Arthur Machen chosen by Peter Atkins, “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft chosen by Richard Laymon, “The Inner Room” by Robert Aickman chosen by Peter Straub, “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne chosen by Rick Hautala, “The Rats in the Walls” by H.P. Lovecraft chosen by Michael Slade, “The Dog Park” by Dennis Etchison chosen by Richard Christian Matheson, “The Animal Fair” by Robert Bloch chosen by Joe R. Lansdale, “The Pattern” by Ramsey Campbell chosen by Poppy Z. Brite, “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe chosen by Joyce Carol Oates, “An Occurrence of Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce chosen by Dennis Etchison, “The Human Chair” by Edigawa Rampo chose by Harlan Ellison.
My Review: Now, this one (unlike the Alfred Hitchcock book I reviewed the other day) I know I was turned on to by my friend at reading by pub light. Of course as soon as I read his review, I had to run out and get myself a copy of this book because I can’t resist a good collection of classic horror stories, and there are some real gems between the covers of this paperback.
“Sweets to the Sweet” is a disturbing little tale by one of the best: Robert Bloch. Honestly, I have yet to read a story by Bloch that I have hated, and this particular story is actually quite unsettling by the time you get to the end. Bloch does a good job of making you certain of the outcome at the beginning, and then making you question that certainty. Seriously, Bloch is one of the best, and “Sweets to the Sweet” is one of his best.
“The Father-Thing” was a story that honestly chilled me. Most of the writing of Philip K. Dick that I am familiar with of the science fiction variety-Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, etc.-I had no idea he wrote horror (however stretched that definition may be in respect to this story). What I loved best about this story was its sense of sweaty paranoia and utter terror that Dick manages to create … it is quite reminiscent of Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (which is a book I might have to dig out of storage now).
“The Distributor” was, along with “The Human Chair,” the story that made the greatest impression on me in reading this anthology. My senior year in high school, I took a science fiction-fantasy literature class and one of the stories we read was “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts” by Shirley Jackson (I tried to find an online version of the story to link to, but I couldn’t find one so you should go out and find a copy of it for yourself). “The Distributor” is very reminiscent of Jackson’s story only much much darker. Of course, it is a Matheson story and so one should expect dark things, but this is dark beyond dark, really … especially since there is nothing remotely supernatural about the story … it is all about the darkness of the human heart and how people will usually think the worst of each other. It reminded me also of the classic Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (another one of those formidable experiences (along with Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and His Dog,” Jackson’s “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts”) that shaped my love of horror literature and the type of fiction I read and write. If for no other reason (and believe me, there are plenty of reasons to pick up My Favorite Horror Story) you need to pick it up to experience Matheson’s “The Distributor.”
“A Warning to the Curious” was one of those stories that I enjoyed, and it unsettled me, but I had to go back and reread the ending to figure out what had happened. This is my second experience with M.R. James (he also wrote a story in the Alfred Hitchcock book) and I guess you could say that the jury is still out on what I think about James. They are very fascinating stories, and “Warning” is especially chilling … but I don’t know, I guess I’ll have to read more of his stuff before I can say, conclusively, whether or not I like him.
“Opening the Door.” Then we come to “Opening the Door” which is one of the longer entries in the collection and even though Peter Atkins (who chose the story) warns that Machen can get a little long-winded, overly philosophical and too pedantic it will not properly prepare you for “Opening the Door.” In all honesty, I was very aware of what the plot and action of the story were, but I had no idea what the Hell was going on because Machen knows nothing of the economy of words. He spends entirely too much time saying nearly nothing at all, and when you get to the end, it is entirely too predictable. Unless you’re a complete-ist like me, or a die-hard Machen fan (are there any out there?) then you’d do well to skip over “Opening the Door.”
“The Colour Out of Space” is a classic bit of horror fiction and in spite of many of H.P. Lovecraft’s shortcomings as an author, “Colour” is a story that will chill you to the bone. Lovecraft has a wonderful sense of what to show and what to keep hidden, and the fact that until the very end, much of the horror of “Colour” remains hidden adds to the suspense and fear that Lovecraft creates in the story. If you have never read any Lovecraft, “Colour” is a good place to start.
It is no wonder to me that Peter Straub was the one who chose “The Inner Room” for this collection. There was something very “Straub-ian” about the story to me. I don’t know if I could quite put my finger on it, if you asked me, but there was something about the slow set-up and then extremely odd pay-off that made me think of the books of Straub that I have read in the past. It very clearly was an influence on Straub’s writing, as he says in his introduction. I will say, though, that I will never look at a dollhouse in quite the same way again.
“Young Goodman Brown” is one of those stories that every burgeoning horror writer needs to read and its inclusion here (along with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”) should be a given. “Brown” is such a formative story of horror that it seems almost foolish to try and talk about it here. I could probably write a whole thesis and dissertation on “Young Goodman Brown.” It is such a classic that if you haven’t yet read it, stop what you’re doing right now and get to your nearest collection of Nathaniel Hawthorne and read “Young Goodman Brown.” I’ll wait.
Back yet? No? Okay, I’ll wait a little longer.
Okay, ready? Another classic from H.P. Lovecraft, “The Rats in the Walls” is another one of those classic horror stories that every horror aficionado needs to read. I love this one in particular, because of the claustrophobic feeling that Lovecraft creates as well as the history that he creates, and when you get to the pay-off it is simply horrifying. Lovecraft is simply one of the best.
“The Dog Park” is a story that I wasn’t sure what was going on with. The ending is quite confusing and one that I had to go back and read again, before I think I figured out what was going on at the end. It is an odd little story, quite honestly, but one that the more I think about it, the more I like it.
“The Animal Fair” is another one of those stories by Robert Bloch that you just have to read to believe. It is terrifying, horrific and absolutely brilliant at the same time. It is another one of my favorites in the collection, and one that will stay with me for a very long time.
The same can be said of “The Pattern” which is one of those great Ramsey Campbell stories that is entirely unsettling and makes for a very disconcerting read. I enjoyed it immensely … it is sufficiently creepy and it is-as with all of Ramsey Campbell’s writing-utterly disturbing!
As for Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” I refer you to my above comments on “Young Goodman Brown.” (But just one more note on “The Tell-Tale Heart”: Since when is Joyce Carol Oates (who chose Poe’s story) a horror author? Just wonderin’.)
Back already? Okay then. Allons-y!
That brings us to “The Human Chair” which is, without a doubt, the single most disturbing read in My Favorite Horror Story. I had no idea what to expect from Edogawa Rampo’s story other than that it would be a good’un because Harlan Ellison had chosen it. This single fact is, of course, enough to get me to read anything, but in the case of “The Human Chair” it doesn’t really need anyone’s endorsement (much less mine, which counts for considerably less than Ellison’s) but this really is a story that needs to be experienced to be believed. It really was a story that made me incredibly uncomfortable and made me-pardon the pun-squirm in my chair. Edogawa Rampo is a penname for Japanese author Taro Hirai and is a transliteration of the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allan Poe, and truly, “The Human Chair” lives up to the standards of that granddaddy of gothic. It is a story that I could easily see as having come from the mind of Mr. Poe, it is that disturbing and simply wonderful.
All-in-all My Favorite Horror Story is a collection not to be missed. It has all of the best that the world of Horror short fiction has to offer as well as some fresh new or little-known (or both) additions that make it such a great collection to read. I really do highly recommend it. It also got me to thinking what short story was most influential on me, and as I mentioned here and in the review for 12 Stories, it comes down to one of two: “A Boy and His Dog” by Harlan Ellison or “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts” by Shirley Jackson. If, at some future date, I was asked to pick a story for a collection such as this, I would have a hard time picking between those two. Luckily, though, I don’t have to pick, I just get to enjoy what authors such as Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Poppy Z. Brite and Richard Laymon picked as important to them. I suggest you do the same.
This review can also be found at Bryan’s Book Blog.