Sunday, June 22, 2008

Books: McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales


Short fiction is often the hardest fiction to write well, as you can see from the compilation "McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales," edited by Michael Chabon. This book, which is actually Issue 10 of "Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern," features some very popular and famous writers - Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Harlan Ellison, to name a few. But unfortunately, a lot of the stories are hit and miss.

Take the Stephen King entry, a short story called "The Tale of Gray Dick" excerpted from "Wolves of the Calla," the fifth Dark Tower book. Now, Stephen King has never been known for his brevity, and the Dark Tower series is probably his most egregious example of "diarrhea of the typewriter." It's clear that King's prose needs to spread out, to breathe, and although the entry is okay, I wager it won't be remembered like "To Build a Fire."

Even Neil Gaiman, who has made a living off of comic book fantasy, seems to have trouble writing something truly memorable. His story, "Closing Time," is an extrapolation of the tall tales and ghost stories barflies tell each other. The whole thing's a bit rambly and unfocused, with a conclusion that hits more like an M. Night Shyamalan ending than something truly revelatory.

Overall, though, there's some good writing here, almost as if the volume is a graveyard for the inchoate story concepts of a bunch of noteworthy authors. And for that fact alone, I think it's worth picking up at your local bookstore's bargain bin.

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