As I am wont to do, I bit off more than I could chew with the story challenge and opened three anthologies to alternate through:
The Children of Old Leech, edited by Ross Lockhart, stories inspired by the mythos of Laird Barron. Laird is one of my favorite story writers. I’d already read “Ymir” by John Langan because it was chosen for the Year’s Best Horror by Ellen Datlow, and the others I’ve read have not disappointed. “The Harrow” by Gemma Files, “Walpurgisnacht” by Orrin Grey, and “Snake Wine” by Jeffrey Thomas all capture the spirit of what Barron does and gives it the author’s own unique twist, exactly what you want in a tribute collection. You’d think an author who’s only written a few novels an story collections wouldn’t have enough to inspire this anthology, but that’s what makes Laird Barron great.
The Highway Kind, car stories edited by Patrick Millikin. I am a motor head and love car stories. “Test Drive” by Ben H. Winters is a good twisty revenge story, but “Power Wagon” by C.J. Box was fantastic, a real down and gritty crime tale that knows its cars. “Burnt Matches” by Michael Connelly was a little too much of a superhero lawyer story for me. I liked his low-key story in the Edward Hopper anthology much better. Then again, following Box’s story would be tough for anyone.
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, selected stories by James Tiptree, Jr. Tiptree was actually Alice Sheldon, and famously fooled Robert Silverberg who said that “whoever this is, he has to be male” (paraphrasing). She was wise to use a male pseudonym, for her stories are the most brutally unapologetic depictions of the damage done by the rigid gender roles enforced by patriarchal society. “The Screwfly Solution” gives us an alien invasion that treats us like insects. Something is in the air that makes men kill women–more than usual–and it’s a genocide, much like how we deal with certain pests, by introducing a chemical that alters behavior to make their mating fatal, and so on. It’s brilliant and utterly terrifying. “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” is even better, about a space mission that brings the all-male crew to an all-female society whose origin is incredibly disturbing. Not all the stories are about gender, of course. “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” is about one of the things that makes humanity unique, and as we discover other species, becomes our downfall.
I’m about 1/4-1/3 through those. I had to review Second Story Man by Charles Salzberg, which is a fine burglar yarn. Now I’m reading Green Sun by Kent Anderson. His books are an event. He’s written three now. Night Dogs is my favorite. They are all about Hanson, who begins in the Vietnam War in Sympathy for the Devil, becomes a Portland cop in Night Dogs. Best depiction of PTSD I’ve read. in the latest, he is a cop in Oakland in the ’80s as the crack epidemic is about to take off. Hanson is a good cop, a social worker with a psycho Shirley Temple smile and a killer instinct, who sees his occupation as occupier and does his best to deflect the damage such an outlook will have on the people he’s trying to protect. As a smart-ass he’s in the “worst” neighborhood, but sees eye to eye with Felix, the local drug lord, and tries to keep the peace… so far.
“Oxford Girl,” by Megan Abbott. Winner of the Anthony Award in 2017 for best short story. Megan read the beginning of this at the Montclair Lit Fest, and I had to read the rest! Her stories are so powerful. She’s a great novelist but an even better short story writer, and this is one of her best. A murder ballad made modern.
“Schwimps,” and “rek-rek-kek-kek-kek,” by Bud Smith. Bud is fast becoming one of my favorite new writers. He often writes on his iPhone during breaks on his job in heavy construction, and brings an absurd sensibility missing from a lot of fiction these days, because of the perspective forced by so many editors, agents, and thus writers, being affluent and white. Both of these stories have a tall-tale element, as he strings us along, but they’re entertaining, funny, and reveal the repetitive and futile nature of life in the late capitalist era.
“St Girard’s Ink Den,” by Mark Rapacz at Tough Crime Magazine. Mark is a newer writer who we will hopefully hear a lot more from. This story plays with expectations and like Bud, comes from a perspective lacking in a lot of crime fiction. No squalor porn here, or sneering at the downtrodden. I met Mark at Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee, and this is the first story I’ve read of is, about a tattoo artist trying to get along, and it reads like early the Willeford and even Goodis.
So, what great short stories have you read lately?