Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Among the Shadows: Tales from the Darker Side
by L. M. Montgomery
Bantam Books, 1990
Source: public library
*review contains spoilers*

When I first decided to join the RIP V challenge, I received a plethora of book suggestions from other bloggers.  The suggestion that caught my eye was Among the Shadows by L. M. Montgomery, largely because I never thought I would ever see “spooky” and “L. M. Montgomery” in the same sentence.  Spooky?  L. M. Montgomery?  Really?  I couldn’t resist.

Among the Shadows is a collection of nineteen stories originally published in magazines and newspapers between 1897 and 1935.  The stories range from whodunits (like “Detected by the Camera,” published in 1897) to ghost stories (like “The Closed Door,” published in 1934) to stories containing just the slightest air of mystery (“The Man on the Train,” published in 1914).  Of the nineteen stories, however, seven of them do not have any ghosts, supernatural activity (explained or otherwise) or any real mystery to them.  Those seven stories totally threw me for a loop, and all I can figure is that they must be darker than Montgomery’s better-known works.  (I haven’t read the Anne or Emily books since I was a kid, so I don’t know this for certain.)

The other twelve stories are not necessarily the creepiest stories ever written, but a few of them did send a shiver down my spine.  To me, the spookiest (and the best-written) story in the collection is “The House Party at Smoky Island” (published in 1935).  (It didn’t help that I read it in a rather dark room!)  The arrival of the ghost was handled so subtly that I actually gasped aloud when I realized it was a ghost.  (And then, I confess, I glanced around to make sure there wasn’t an additional presence in the room.)

As I read Montgomery’s tales, I noticed that the reader is often kept at a safe distance from the events in these mysterious and spooky stories.  The twelve stories are told either in the third person, by one character to another, or by a first person narrator who, for the most part, exists on the sidelines of the story.  (See my list below.)  For example, while the first person narrator is present when the ghost shows up in “The House Party at Smoky Island,” he really just happens to be at the right place (or maybe the wrong place!) at the right time; the main story doesn’t really involve him at all.  Of all the first-person narrators in this collection, however, he was the most involved in the story, and I think that involvement is one of the reasons this story spooked me the most.  The more distance you put between the teller and the listener of a ghost story, the less real, and therefore less spooky, it feels.  With several of these stories there was just too much distance between me and the supernatural activity for me to get significantly creeped out.

The funny thing is, this point actually comes up in one of the stories.  In “Davenport’s Story,” (published in 1902), the story opens up with the characters telling each other ghost stories, which are criticized by one of the characters:  “He said our stories were all second-hand stuff.  There wasn’t a man in the crowd who had ever seen or heard a ghost; all our so-called authentic stories had been told us by persons who had the story from other persons who saw the ghosts” (15-16).

This collection is full of “second-hand stuff,” which makes me wonder if Montgomery’s decision to give it to us “second-hand” was intentional or unintentional.  Was she trying to make her stories less credible or realistic?  (And what’s up with the ending of “Some Fools and a Saint”?)  Hmmm.

Overall, it was an interesting read, and one I recommend to Montgomery fans and anyone else curious to see her “darker” side!

Other reviews:

Chandra Universe

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For the nerds in the crowd, here’s a breakdown of the twelve spooky stories by category (ghost, whodunit, etc) and how they were narrated.  I’m deliberately not including the titles of the stories because I don’t want to give away more than I already have!

Of the twelve stories containing some mysterious element, there are . . .

2 whodunits: one told in the third person, one told by an initially peripheral first person narrator

1 murder: told by a first person narrator to an unseen audience

5 ghost stories: one told in the third person, two told by a (mostly) peripheral first person narrator, two told by one character to another

2 ghosts-who-aren’t-really-ghosts stories: both told in the third person

1 slightly (mostly explained away) magical story: told in the third person

1 mysterious stranger
: told in the third person

Happy Halloween!

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When I sat down a few days ago to catch up on my favorite book blogs I realized how much I miss this book blogging world.  I miss reading reviews, chatting with fellow book lovers, and planning and writing my own reviews and bookish thoughts.  I miss having a tiny corner of my life separate from work and school.  At first I was a little caught-off guard by this feeling, and then I felt a little sad, because unfortunately this is just the beginning. 

Sigh.  Drat being a responsible adult.

I want to apologize for my absence here, my delayed (or completely lack of) comments on your blogs, and all current and future whining about the intrusion of my thesis and work on my book blogging life.  I’m a little bundle of stress these days, but I’m trying really hard not to inflict that on anyone.  (I think I would be a little more successful at that if I moved to Antarctica.  But I hear it’s kinda cold there.)

Even though work, school and being sick (yes, I’ve been sick, too, which is just not fair, if you ask me) have kept me from blogging, I’ve managed to squeeze in quite a bit of “fun” reading.  (Mostly because I read while at work, but don’t tell on me!)  I don’t really have a review in me right now, so here’s a brief recap of some recent reads:

I did read one more Isabel Allende book last month – Daughter of Fortune.  Most of the novel takes place in California during the Gold Rush, and it was interesting to read an Allende novel about a time and place I’m familiar with.  She is such a vivid writer, though, that even if I wasn’t a native Californian I would still have felt like I was there.  I’ve never been to Chile, and yet after reading House of the Spirits I feel like I have.

Hmmm, what else . . . I finished up the Stieg Larsson Millennium series a few weeks ago.  Not the all-time greatest books I’ve ever read, but still very good.  A coworker loaned me Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen last week, and I feel a little ho-hum about it.  I’ve definitely read better memoirs (A Girl Named Zippy comes to mind; wow, do I love that book!). 

I’ve had a good reading streak since then: I finished Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman last night and lovedlovedloved it.  When I have available time and brain space I’m definitely going to review it here.  (In the meantime, check out Jenny’s review.  Wonderful.)  I’m on a mini Diana Wynne Jones kick, too.  I read Charmed Life the other day (good times, big fun) and am in the middle of Dogsbody, which is just fantastic.  I’m also in the middle of Among the Shadows by L. M. Montgomery, (recommended by Chandra), because frankly I could not resist reading a collection of spooky stories written by the author of Anne of Green Gables.

And on a totally unrelated note, autumn is finally getting rolling here, which just thrills me to pieces.  The leaves are blowing everywhere, there’s a chill in the air . . . I would be totally okay with it staying like this until spring 🙂

What are you up to?  Any great reads?  How’s autumn treating you?

P.S. In more unrelated news, I just discovered that Gail Carriger (author of Soulless, which I reviewed back in July) quoted my review on her blog!  A real, live author quoted me!  Wow.  I’m getting all giddy and starry-eyed over here.

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The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest
edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
Viking, 2002
Source: public library

Troll’s Eye View inspired me to look into other short story collections edited by Datlow and Windling. When I found this at the library I thought I had struck gold. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

It’s not that the book was bad. It was just . . . blah. (Impressive vocabulary, I know. You should see me when I play Upwords!) Windling’s introduction was interesting enough, but the stories completely fell flat for me. I felt like there was a chasm between the writer and her/his story; like they were trying to write a compelling, mysterious story about the natural world while sitting in a windowless room on a distant, lifeless planet. My thoughts kept returning to an essay I read recently in The Ecocriticism Reader. In “Speaking a Word for Nature,” Scott Russell Sanders discusses the growing distance, literal and figurative, between people and the natural world and how this distance has manifested itself in contemporary fiction. He writes:

All fiction is a drawing of charmed circles, since we can write about only a piece of the world. Within that circle, language shines meaning onto every whisper, every gesture and object. All the while, beyond that circle, the universe cycles on. Much contemporary fiction seems to me barren in part because it draws such tiny, cautious circles, in part because it pretends that nothing lies beyond its timid boundaries . . . What is missing from much recent fiction, I feel, is any sense of nature, any acknowledgment of a nonhuman context. (183)

Later he says, “For most of us, most of the time, nature appears framed in a window or a video screen or inside the borders of a photograph. We do not feel the organic web passing through our guts, as it truly does. While our theories of nature have become wiser, our experience of nature has become shallower” (194).  Most of these stories fit right into Sanders’ theory about contemporary fiction, which is unfortunate, given the theme of the collection.  I don’t blame the writers. I think they put forth a good effort. Taken out of context, (i.e. not part of a collection entitled The Green Man), some of the stories were quite good. (My favorites include “Fee, Fie, Foe, et Cetera” by Gregory Maguire and “Joshua Tree” by Emma Bull.) I just wish I didn’t have to view the stories out of context to appreciate them.

Did I miss your review?  Let me know and I’ll make a list!

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Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales
edited by Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling
Viking, 2009
Source: public library

 I have Chandra over at My Life in Books to thank for this fun read.  I went from Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel to A Lesson Before Dying to American Chestnut (still reading it) without really pausing for breath.  None of these are easy, lighthearted reads: reading about Dr. Seuss’s first wife’s suicide really weighed me down, and A Lesson Before Dying and American Chestnut aren’t exactly uplifting books, either. 

Needless to say, this book came at the perfect moment.  I’m a big fan of fairy tales, particularly of creative revisions, so this book was a delight.  I love stories told from the perspective of villains or other silenced characters.  My favorite stories were Jane Yolen’s “Troll” and Catherynne M. Valente’s “A Delicate Architecture” (I’ve never been a huge fan of “Hansel and Gretel” but this story was a fantastic twist that made me look at the story from an entirely different perspective).  Full of quick, short stories, I highly recommend this book for fans of fairy tales and villains!

Other reviews:

My Life in Books

Did I miss your review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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