Bill Kerwin's Reviews > American Supernatural Tales

American Supernatural Tales by S.T. Joshi
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May 01, 2016

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bookshelves: weird-fiction, ghost-stories, short-stories
Read in September, 2009


This is a well-chosen anthology. If it is inconsistent in quality, the problem is not to be found in Joshi's choices, but in the decline of supernatural fiction during the latter part of the 20th century.

The older stuff is the best. Irving's "German Student" is nothing more than a campfire story for boy scouts, and not really a very good one at that. The Hawthorne tale about Randolph's portrait is better, but not exactly gripping. Then comes Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," and--not having read this story in thirty years--I was astonished at what a masterpiece it is--not a word out of place, artfully alternating vague menace with Gothic claptrap in a way that makes both of them more terrifying. O'Brien's "What Was It?" is still unsettling, and Bierce's "Halpin Frayser"--a story with which I was not familiar--is elliptical and perverse in a very modern way. Henry James' "The Real Right Thing," in which a biographer may or may not have the permission of his ghostly subject, was also new to me, and I found it very effective, as was Shirley Jackson's "The Visitor."

The Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith pieces are excellent as well, but except for T.E.D Klein and Ligotti (both masters of the form) the rest--about a third of the book--is pretty forgettable. Civilization may or may not be in decline, but the supernatural tale certainly is.
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05/01 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Jeannie Sloan Thank you for the review.I have just received this book today and look forward to dimming the lights and lighting the fire so that I may enjoy the book in the right environment.
I have to agree with you about the decline in supernatural fiction for the last 20-30 years.Somehow the majic has gone out of the ghost story and we are now treated to only blood,gore and violence now.None of which I can stomach.Hence, the majority of my reading is from the last century or earlier.
Anyway.Thanks again for the review!
Jeannie


Bill  Kerwin Jeannie wrote: "Thank you for the review."

You're welcome. Also . . . check out my review of "Hauntings" by Vernon Lee. I think you might find this book interesting.



Jeannie Sloan Thanks, I will!


message 4: by Wayne (new) - added it

Wayne Just bought this yesterday, Bill, and very much suspected when I browsed the authors that the later ones might disappoint, as you have commented.
But like Jeannie I envisage lots of goosebumps in the cosiest of fire lit rooms when I read this selection.
Will reread your review with renewed interest then.
Happy Reading from Wayne,Sydney Australia.


Bill  Kerwin Wayne wrote: "Just bought this yesterday, Bill, and very much suspected when I browsed the authors that the later ones might disappoint, as you have commented.
But like Jeannie I envisage lots of goosebumps in ..."


I'll be interested to hear your reactions.


message 6: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King A lovely review Bill.


message 7: by David (new)

David Sarkies I've got to grab that Poe book off my shelf sometime soon. I haven't read him for years either (since back at University). I sure do remember those campfire stories when I was in scouts, though I can't remember the details, with the exception of the one where the murder banged the victims head (I think it was the wife) on the roof of the car.


message 8: by Paul (new)

Paul  Perry I think there is some very, very good supernatural fiction out there. In recent years Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling's now sadly discontinued annual Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies (along with some others, often curated by Datlow) have rekindled my passion for horror, mostly of the supernatural variety. I had been rather turned off it due to the general awfulness of horror in the novel form (Klein being one of the exceptions as you say, along with Stephen King at his best and, I'd add, Muriel Gray), but I was pleased to find quality lives on in the short form.


message 9: by Bill (last edited Dec 06, 2015 05:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill  Kerwin Paul 'Pezski' wrote: "I think there is some very, very good supernatural fiction out there...quality lives on in the short form..."

This is an area I have just begun to explore. (And this is an old review.) I must say the exploration is paying off. Joe Hill, Laird Barron, Glen Hirshberg, Stephen Graham Jones and Mark Samuels are a few names that come to mind. (Hill and Hirshberg is particularly good.)

If you have any other suggestions, send them along. (I typically limit myself to published collections; I don't think I'm read to weed in to the Datlow anthologies, even though I have heard they are quite good.)


message 10: by Jayaprakash (new)

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy Some more good contemporary authors: John Langan, Kaaron Warren, Joe Pulver, Simon Strantzas, Richard Gavin


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