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2010 Stories 217 - 222

First, a batch from STORIES, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio:

217. The Knife by Richard Adams  Adams is another author I should have read by now and have not (I can thank this anthology for introducing me to quite a few authors in that category).  I have always intended to read Watership Down, but have not managed to do it. Someday I will, but not because of this particular story.  Adams keeps the story (a boarding school boy due for yet another encounter with the school prefect / bully finds a knife in the woods -- will he use it or not?) terse (it might be the shortest story in the collection) and the language straightforward and even a bit dry.   I feel like I must have missed something, because the story itself just feels empty, average.  The paragraph-coda at the end just adds to that feeling that the author is winking at me, and I'm stuck between trying to figure out if he's really winking or if he's just got an eyelash stuck.  It's a shame, because I really wanted to like the story. Maybe someone else can tell me what I'm not getting.

218. Weights and Measures by Jodi Picoult  Another author I've not had the pleasure of reading before now, and whose story in this volume makes me want to seek out more.  I absolutely loved this story of a husband and wife's differing methods of dealing with the death of a young (and only) child.  I don't have kids, nor have I had to deal with the death of any young child truly close to me ... but I connected with the characters in the story anyway, and completely understood the way they react. I felt their pain at not understanding each other, as well.  Picoult raises the question of whether there really is a "right" and "wrong" way to grieve, and I think she makes a strong case for the answer to be 'no.'  Everyone grieves in their own way, every gains or loses the weight of attachment to the loved one who has gone away.  She also made me think about my own differing reactions to the passing of my mother (for whom I was primary caregiver in the last two months of her life) and my father (whose passing was sudden and absolutely unexpected).

219. Goblin Lake by Michael Swanwick  I love a good Jack story (Beanstalk, Sprat, Frost, etc) and Swanwick creates a mostly more than good Jack story here.  In fact, I had to keep checking the byline, because I was absolutely sure this story was written by Bill Willingham, the creator of the Vertigo comics companion series Fables and Jack of Fables.  I'm still not convinced that Swanwick and Willingham didn't pull a switcheroo on us (which would perhaps be more plausible if Willingham had a story in this anthology), because the story touches on so much of what Willingham covers in his comics: what it means to be a fictional character, what it might mean to become aware of the fact that you're stuck in a story, and how one might choose (or not choose) to get out.  It's a concept that I don't ever really get tired of seeing used, and Swanwick gives us a Jack who definitely changes thanks to the revelations in/of the story, and I definitely enjoyed the story ... but I still can't help think it's a Willingham story. Authors often write pastiches in the style of someone whose work they love (editor Gaiman has done it quite a few times), and maybe that is what this is -- if it is, Swanwick does a great job of capturing Willingham's Fables voice.

220. Mallon the Guru by Peter Straub I've been a fan of Peter Straub's since Ghost Story -- both the movie and the book blew me away when I first experienced them in 1981/1982.  I have not read any where near all of Straub's output since then.  In fact, it's been quite a long time since I've read anything by Straub. This story was a nice reintroduction, but for my money it's a far cry from Straub at his best.  While it was interesting -- an American "guru" who may or may not have supernatural powers travels to an India village with his spiritual advisor, strange things happen, and things do not turn out the way the guru thinks they should -- it felt a bit incomplete; it's the one story in this collection so far that has actually felt like it might be set in a larger fictional world of the author's creation.  In fact, I did a search on the character Spencer Mallon and I see that he is indeed one of the focal characters of Straub's recent novel A Dark Matter. What I did like about the story was the very obvious point that Mallon is self-centered, full of himself, and not to be trusted -- the villagers may not be able to see that, but the reader surely does. And I'm sure that doesn't bode well for the characters in the novel, either.

And two from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

221.  A Case of Identity  I do remember reading this one back in high school. Holmes agrees to discover what happened to a young woman's betrothed, who disappeared from his carriage somewhere between his front gate and the church.  The mystery itself is a fairly straight-forward one. What most shines about the story is the fact that Holmes always has the young woman's feelings at heart, and makes decisions about how and what to reveal based on how it might affect her in the long run. In our own era, Holmes' decision would probably open him up to a world of liability for failing to disclose. Then again, in our era the case would probably end up on a million websites, too.

222. The Boscombe Valley Mystery  Holmes gets called out to the middle of nowhere to solve a crime that seems open-and-shut: a man is seen arguing with his adult son, and moments later the man is dead, and the son has blood on him.  Of course, there's more layers to the events that what is visible on the surface, and Holmes once again proves he is apparently the only man in London (at least, at this particular time) who can think outside the box to find the truth of the case.


A Story A Day Keeps Boredom Away

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