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American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940's Until Now

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  266 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
Like its companion volume, this Library of America hardcover contains 750 pages of classic tales of horror, hauntings, terrifying obsessions, and unearthly presences. The lineup of American Gothic masters includes Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, Jack Finney, Shirley Jackson, Paul Bowles, Ray Bradbury, Vladimir Nabokov, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Isaac Bashevis Sin ...more
Hardcover, 713 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Library of America (first published September 29th 2009)
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Sep 09, 2015 Shawn rated it really liked it
So, here's the companion volume to American Fantastic Tales:Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps and, of course, given that it moves into the current day, it's bound to be more contentious than the first volume, while having a bit more variety.

As before, it's important to re-mention some points that I made in the review of the earlier volume: these books aren't intended as a "best-of" for each particular artist, rather Straub seems to be attempting a themed overview of the genre and so I
Erika Schoeps
Jul 13, 2014 Erika Schoeps rated it it was amazing
An absolutely definitive collection of contemporary, short, literary horror. I read the first volume (Classic, short, literary horror), and didn't know how I would feel about this one. I ended up loving it even more. Say whatever you will book snobs, but I will always love Contemporary over Classic.

This book was my baby for a few days, taking it everywhere and enjoying it whenever I had a spare moment. I enjoyed all of the stories, even a few of the more confusing ones at the end (I normally lo
Mrs. Musrum's Mum Keleher
Excellent anthology, but somewhat lacking as a definitive representation of what should be the best, given it's Library of America. The choices for 1995- 2007 in particular aren't that outstanding. But the first third is terrific and the second half quite good. It's a mix of literary authors writing a fantastic tale (Tennessee Williams' "The Mysteries of the Joy Rio" and Truman Capote's "Miriam" are especially good) and horror writers with good, but oddly, often not their best work (Shirley Jack ...more
Dec 13, 2009 Lori rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009december
At 700+ pages and with 40+ stories in tiny, tiny type, Tales is an incredibly dense book.

There's no way to really review the book as a whole. The stories run from the 1940 to 2007, and the authors, subjects and genres are as diverse as the decade.

So, below (in chronological order) is a list of those I'd highly recommend folks try. The ones with asterisks are amazing. I'll be looking for more from those authors.

Smoke Ghost/Fritz Leiber
The Refugee/Jane Rice*
Mr. Lupescu/Anthony Boucher
Apr 03, 2012 Grant rated it liked it
Catalogued in the Order Read

Brian Evenson – “The Wavering Knife”
Joe Hill – “Pop Art”
T.E.D. Klein – “The Events at Poroth Farm”

Shirley Jackson – “The Daemon Lover”
Steven Millhauser – “Dangerous Laughter”
Harlan Ellison – “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”
John Collier – “Evening Primrose”
Truman Capote – “Miriam”
Ray Bradbury – “The April Witch”
M. Rickert – “The Chambered Fruit”
John Cheever – “Torch Song”
Michael Chabon – “The God of Dark Laughter”
Kelly Link – “Stone Animals”
Sean Sweetnam
Mar 24, 2011 Sean Sweetnam rated it liked it
My reaction to this book is very similar to the first volume in this series: There were a few gems in the collection, a lot of OK stories, and a couple stinkers. Whereas the first volume gave interesting perspective on the growth of writing and supernatural fantasy in America, I felt like this volume gave more perspective on the writing of many popular authors from recent times (i.e. 1940s onwards).
One of the things I noticed most was how deep of an impression H.P. Lovecraft has made upon the su
Jul 06, 2010 Rupert rated it liked it
Actually, I would give this book a 2 1/2 star rating, because I found half the stories to be really great or well above average and then half to be snooze-worthy. I have to say, that for me there was a huge mark against the collection when I immediately checked for any Robert Aickman stories. A collection of modern stories of the "uncanny" without Aickman????

I confess I don't read much of the straight up modern horror/sci-fi stuff and am not familiar with what angle Straub is coming from, other
Aug 02, 2013 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
I got this book out of the library recently, and realized about a story in that I'd already read it a few years ago. However, even knowing that, I couldn't help but read it over again. That's how good it is. Almost every single story is a winner---stories that have that strange touch, that weird something you can't quite put your finger on but that makes you think long after you read them. My favorite stories---Jack Finney (anything he writes is great) with "I'm Scared, Jonathan Carroll with "Mr ...more
May 18, 2015 Scott rated it liked it
Shelves: horror, short-stories
While there are several stories worth reading here, I much preferred the first volume of this set. Once you hit the 1980s (about halfway through) the quality drops sharply, with a few exceptions (Ligotti, Millhauser, Rickert, Percy--too bad Straub gives away the entire story to that last in his introduction; I guess he thought we'd forget by the time we got there.)
Jeannie Sloan
Jul 05, 2010 Jeannie Sloan rated it did not like it
I am so disappointed in this book.It seems like Straub picked the most boring stories by the authors to put in this book.I am so glad that I didn't buy the two books in the series because I would then have been even more disappointed than I am now.
Sep 30, 2011 Jon rated it liked it
I'm a bit torn. The introduction by Straub seems misleading. He focuses on the horror elements, but it seems several the stories chosen fall into the fantastic fiction that the actual title of the book suggests. I'm not a huge fan of several of the stories chosen and think that there are better examples that could have been chosen. Also, the length of a lot of the selected stories runs far too long.[return][return]That being said, there's some real gems here and there are not as many collections ...more
Mar 03, 2011 Donald rated it it was ok
This collection was not nearly as good as the previous volume. Perhaps that had to do with a lot of the stories being from the last twenty years, which seems to have been the "meandering characters in search of a storyline" type of short-story writing. Very few of these stories were uncanny or having to do with terror, which was unfortunate.
Sep 14, 2010 Beth rated it liked it
Shelves: shortstories
Perhaps I can only take so much of the uncanny--this 700-page collection surpassed my limit. My favorites were the stories from the 40's and 50's, which were more literary and less pulpy than the usual horror fare: Smoke Ghost, Mr. Lupescu, I'm Scared, and the selections by John Cheever and Shirley Jackson.
Kathryn McCary
Jul 22, 2010 Kathryn McCary rated it really liked it
There were some great stories in this anthology, along with (of course) some fairly dreadful ones. I mostly preferred the relatively recent material, but it did contain one old, long-time favorite: John Cheever's Torch Song which is on my (unwritten) list of all-time-favorite short stories.
Jul 30, 2010 Erin rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Very enjoyable, event though I was surprised at the heavy tilt toward stories from the past twenty years. My favorites? "I Have No Mouth..." by Harlan Ellison and "Family" by Joyce Carol Oates. Really enjoyed Kelly Link's "Stone Animals" until the end. Well worth reading for fans of the genre.
Jul 11, 2010 Lori rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic anthology. Highly recommend it. People tend to dismiss this genre as populated by a bunch of hack writers and this proves that thought so wrong. The writing is fantastic.
May 18, 2011 Lexi rated it liked it
Shelves: school, read-in-2011
Didn't read all of the stories out of this book, but from the ones we read for my English class, "Prey" was my favorite. Really freaky.
May 21, 2010 Paula rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this one. "Sea Oak" and "The Refugee" were my favorites.
Jul 01, 2011 Peter rated it really liked it
These are just great stories. Highly recommended.
May 08, 2010 Hazel rated it it was ok
Just a little old-fashioned for my taste. I need my terror to be more in my face I guess.
Rado Baťo
Jan 12, 2016 Rado Baťo rated it it was amazing
Let me get two stories out of the way, both of them in their own league — at least in my eyes. Harlan Ellison’s ‘I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream’ is the story I remember from my teenage years, one of the few I still admire. It’s brutal, well-written and deliberately unpleasant to read. It’s almost feels like a test how much you can stand before throwing your book away. Why I like it so much is something I don’t want to dwell on.

Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘The Vane Sisters’, rejected by the publisher a
Jan 09, 2017 Louischa rated it did not like it
Horrible collection.
Dave Morris
Mar 08, 2016 Dave Morris rated it liked it
Quite a curate's egg. Some of the stories are what I would expect of "the fantastic" - elusive, oblique, unsettling, breathtakingly fanciful, or all of the above. Joe Hill's "Pop Art", for example, in which the narrator remembers his inflatable childhood friend. That's a world in which people just are sometimes inflatable and Hill runs with the idea. But contrast that with Poppy Z Brite's "Pansu", which relentlessly expounds a feeble idea about exorcism; it might as well be one of Ross Rocklynne ...more
Nov 06, 2013 Amber rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Courtney Schafer
Nov 24, 2014 Courtney Schafer rated it really liked it
Four stars for the stories I enjoyed.

I checked this book out as it was the only book I could find with the story "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" by Harlan Ellison. I find it difficult to read compilations as the stories that appeal to me seem to be few and far.

Best stories:
Evening Primrose by John Collier
The Refugee by Jane Rice
Mr. Lupescu by Anthony Boucher
Mariam by Truman Capote
Where the Woodbine Twineth by Davis Grubb
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
Prey by Richard M
Dec 07, 2012 Roger rated it liked it
Pretty good and varied collection of stories. If this genre interests you I recommend it. The first volume of "American Fantastic Tales: Poe to the Pulps" is also a good collection. I was a bit surprised that Faulkner's great short story, "A Rose For Emily" was not included in the first volume, published in early 1930's it certainly qualified for volume one. It fits in as a fantastic tale and there is no doubt in my mind that it probably had some influence on Robert Bloch's "Psycho" (although no ...more
Dec 16, 2012 Ben rated it really liked it
This is a good collection, but I didn't enjoy it as much as its predecessor. The effects of Modernism and Post-Modernism on a genre aren't entirely flattering, in my opinion. A lot of these stories feel more like literary exercises than constructed stories, and the intentional obtuseness of many of the more recent offerings rendered them interesting, but ineffective. The first volume's focus on deliberate story construction and formalism was more rewarding to me than this volume's focus on defie ...more
Aug 12, 2016 Bucket rated it it was ok
I read most of these. Like most anthologies the collection was uneven--sometimes okay, sometimes better than okay. I found I preferred the more contemporary stories (i.e. the last half of the book since they are ordered chronologically).

Stone Animals, Kelly Link
Dial Tone, Benjamin Percy
The Chambered Fruit, M. Rickert
Dangerous Laughter, Steven Millhauser
That Feeling..., Stephen King
Family, Joyce Carol Oates
The God of Dark Laughter, Michael Chabon

Christopher Sutch
Mar 17, 2012 Christopher Sutch rated it it was amazing
This is a bit better than the first volume, mainly because most of these stories actually fit the definition Straub imposed on the collection (fantastic fiction). There are some very, very good pieces here. There were only one or two I thought were of uneven quality. These two volumes are great reading from front to back. Great stuff.
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Peter Straub was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 2 March, 1943, the first of three sons of a salesman and a nurse. The salesman wanted him to become an athlete, the nurse thought he would do well as either a doctor or a Lutheran minister, but all he wanted to do was to learn to read.

When kindergarten turned out to be a stupefyingly banal disappointment devoted to cutting animal shapes out of heavy
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“Haven't you noticed, too, on the part of nearly everyone you know, a growing rebellion against the present? And an increasing longing for the past? I have. Never before in all my long life have I heard so many people wish that they lived 'at the turn of the century,' or 'when life was simpler,' or 'worth living,' or 'when you could bring children into the world and count on the future,' or simply 'in the good old days.' People didn't talk that way when I was young! The present was a glorious time! But they talk that way now.

For the first time in man's history, man is desperate to escape the present. Our newsstands are jammed with escape literature, the very name of which is significant. Entire magazines are devoted to fantastic stories of escape - to other times, past and future, to other worlds and planets - escape to anywhere but here and now. Even our larger magazines, book publishers and Hollywood are beginning to meet the rising demand for this kind of escape. Yes, there is a craving in the world like a thirst, a terrible mass pressure that you can almost feel, of millions of minds struggling against the barriers of time. I am utterly convinced that this terrible mass pressure of millions of minds is already, slightly but definitely, affecting time itself. In the moments when this happens - when the almost universal longing to escape is greatest - my incidents occur. Man is disturbing the clock of time, and I am afraid it will break. When it does, I leave to your imagination the last few hours of madness that will be left to us; all the countless moments that now make up our lives suddenly ripped apart and chaotically tangled in time.

Well, I have lived most of my life; I can be robbed of only a few more years. But it seems too bad - this universal craving to escape what could be a rich, productive, happy world. We live on a planet well able to provide a decent life for every soul on it, which is all ninety-nine of a hundred human beings ask. Why in the world can't we have it? ("I'm Scared")”
“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city. At all hours it was necessary to keep a lamp lighted, and Mrs. Miller lost track of the days: Friday was no different from Saturday and on Sunday she went to the grocery: closed, of course.” 16 likes
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