Four men suffering from heart disease, and all loosely connected in the publishing world, end up on the same floor of a hospital.
(from McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories)
No surprise, Peter Straub has teamed up with Stephen King in the past. I’ve only read the one story by King, but I know his style a little bit from the jalopies adapted from his books and stories. “Mr. Aickman’s Air Rifle” has a lonely Langoliers quality to it, right down to its viciously unexplained bits of spookiness. I really don’t get what’s going on in this story. Or maybe I get the big picture but the details are so hazy I feel lost.
* * *
And that, dear readers, was my last trip to the good ol’ Enchanted Chamber. I’ve read all 15 stories in the collection, which isn’t terribly impressive. You’re supposed to read books. Still, given that this is the first finished book in the short history of I Read A Short Story Today, it should be recognized as the nigh-milestone it is. Applause Sign.
McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories was absolutely worth the $13.95 (plus tax) cover price. Its over-arching accomplishment was tricking artsy-litsy types into reading “genre” fiction. The stories sometimes utilized, or parodied, familiar elements from mysteries, horror and, yeah, mostly those two genres. Most were engaging reads. Well chosen, editor Michael Chabon.
I once got an award, well more of a certificate, for studying banjo for a week. Okay, everybody in class got one. Just for showing up. It’s an honor I’d like to bestow on the Astonishing Stories now. In no order because I am under orders from no one.
Best Cautionary Tale For The Paranoid
Margaret Atwood, “Lusus Naturae”
The main character is turning into a monster. It’s so scary because she’s so human. It could happen to you! It could.
Coolest Mystery I Almost Figured Out
Daniel Handler, “Delmonico”
Clues make more sense in the rear view mirror.
Best Attempt to Play Off My Catholicism-Approved Pagan Fears
Poppy Z. Brite, “The Devil of Delery Street”
Now I’m even more afraid of every little noise.
Story Which Gives the Reader The Most Credit
China Miéville, “Reports of Certain Events In London”
Original from the first word to the last. (Spoiler Alert: Those words are “on” and “rest.”)
Most Ungenerous Horror Story
Peter Straub, “Mr. Aickman’s Air Rifle”
It made more sense than Twin Peaks, but I just didn’t follow. Throw me a bone, Mr. Straub.
Most Blatant Attempt To Blow Your Mind
Steve Erickson, “Zeroville”
Didn’t quite work out, though.
Most Engrossing Story
Charles D’Ambrosio, “The Scheme of Things”
I was totally hooked.
Most Winding and Wild
David Mitchell, “What You Do Not Know You Want”
Never knew what would happen next, but I knew it’d cool.
Story Which Made Me Most Nostalgic For A Genre I Barely Knew
Heidi Julavitz, “The Miniaturist”
This one scared me too. It was a crazy paisley of horror imagery but still effective.
Most Exhausting Treadmill
Roddy Doyle, “The Child”
Just didn’t care for it.
Most Predictable But Still Cool But Still Neat Horror Story
Ayelet Waldman, “Minnow”
Yeah. Saw it coming, didn’t care that much.
Stephen King, “Lisey and the Madman”
What was I thinking, taking Stephen Effin King for an underdog in a genre-riffic story collection? He kicked ass.
Jonathan Lethem, “Vivian Relf”
So ornate you don’t care it it’s empty. Is it even empty?
Jason Roberts, “7C”
If I had seen Memento, I would note that this story freaked me out in the same way.
Best Resuscitation of an Edgar Allan Poe Anecdote
Joyce Carol Oates, “The Fabled Lighthouse at Via del Mar”
She took a dormant Poe idea and came up with a madman tale he’d’ve been proud of. I can’t wait to meet my dream Cyclophagus.