3 Startling Short Story Collections

3 Startling Short Story Collections

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

3 Startling Short Story Collections :: Outlandish Lit

One of my favorite parts of #weirdathon has been the chance to jump around and explore a bunch of short story collections. And I found some really good ones. These stories will startle, unsettle, and intrigue you. Don't worry, they're not all scary. They're just the right amount of strange.

A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel
Publisher: Riverhead Books. 2013.
Genre: Literary Fiction - Short Stories
Source: Independent Bookstore
Pages: 208




I am going to try to be brave like you asked me to, but I don't have any idea yet what that means. Is it braver to allow the sadness of your leaving to spread into each of my bones until it is as big as you were to me? Or is it braver to let you drift out into what may very well be a brighter, finer place than this and be happy to think of your joy there? I hope, Petra, that I get it right.

This collection of short stories made me ugly cry twice, then tear up another time. Right out of the gate, Ausubel hits hard with her surreal, but emotionally direct, creations. Some stories are stranger than others. There's a ghost, there's a man who grows a cabinet of drawers in his chest, a ship with only confused grandmas on it, and a world where people grow arms only when they love someone (and there's no limit as to how many that could be). You're thrown immediately into these less than normal scenarios, or you watch them grow over time and share the fright of the characters as they change.

No matter what outlandish method is used to explore life in these stories, they're all about how our bodies and our selves are not entirely our own. How we belong to others, and how the loss of others affects us. Unafraid, Ausubel visits all different sorts of humanity and graciously takes us with her. Her writing is absolutely stunning, where her stories go will surprise you, and she will give you all sorts of feelings.

Warning: In the story Welcome to Your Life and Congratulations, one of the main topics is the loss of a pet cat in an accident. It gets minorly borderline gory. If this is a topic that you'd find upsetting, skip it. It's one of the weaker stories anyhow.

FAVORITE STORIES: Poppyseed, Chest of Drawers, Safe Passage, Magniloquence

Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti
Publisher: Subterranean Press. 1986.
Genre: Horror - Short Stories
Source: Library
Pages: 288




It was those stars, I knew that now: certain of them had been promised specific parts of my body; in the darkest hours of the night, when one is unusually sensitive to such things, I could-- and still can, though just barely-- feel the force of these stars tugging away at various points, eager for the moment of my death when each of them might carry off that part of me which is theirs by right.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer is startling in a completely different way than A Guide to Being Born. This is by far one of the best collections of supernatural horror that I've ever read. At first I was a little off put by Ligotti's flowery often-gothic language, but I got used to him playing with styles and using it to his advantage in exploring old horror tropes with new breaths of imagination. I got a lot of The King in Yellow vibes in that a frequent topic was whether or not madness was actual insanity or knowledge of a different plane of existence. Ligotti's stories are so original, that it was hard to guess where their dark paths were leading. Very creepy, very otherworldly. Definitely the kind of horror that I'm into. I'd highly recommend it to any horror fan who's tired of reading contemporary haunted house kinds of stories.

I read these out of order over a long period of time (shortest first, because I read them aloud over a campfire while camping in the summer). When I started reading them again from the beginning, I learned that the first story (The Frolic) about a criminal psychologist and his patient packs a huge, creepy punch. You can read it here. It's not gory, but it's not for the faint-hearted. Prepare to be all SORTS of startled.

FAVORITE STORIES: Vastarien, The Music of the Moon, Drink to Me Only With Labyrinthine Eyes, The Frolic

Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail by Kelly Luce
Publisher: A Strange Object. 2013.
Genre: Literary Fiction - Short Stories
Source: Gift
Pages: 170



A sharp, crunching sound pulled his eyes to one side, where they fell on the wet-haired boy. The child looked away quite obviously -- he had been watching him. To be observed so closely by a child felt a great honor.

I'm not sure why I expected this collection of short stories to be creepy, but I did and I was slightly misled by that. Though certainly strange, they're often delightful or beautifully haunting. Bizarre things happen, like people growing tails or a toaster predicting how people will die, but these are fully stories about reality and humans' relations to one another.

All of these stories are based in or focused on Japan, where Luce lived for three years. What was so lovely about these stories was how they were all told by or about outsiders, be they gaijin (foreigners) or Japanese people who feel like they are on the outskirts of their communities. I was startled by the appearance of demons and magical karaoke machines just as much as I was by how gently Luce could break my heart and tenderly stitch it back together again with her hope for our world.

FAVORITE STORIES: The Blue Demon of Ikumi, Ash, Rooey, Cram Island

What startling short story collection have you read recently?


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