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"At its core," writes editor Peter Straub, "the fantastic is a way of seeing." In place of gothic trappings, the post-war masters of the fantastic often substitute an air of apparent normality. The surfaces of American life—department store displays in John Collier's "Evening Primrose," tar-paper roofs seen from an el train in Fritz Leiber's "Smoke Ghost," the balcony of a dilapidated movie theater in Tennessee Williams' "The Mysteries of the Joy Rio"—become invested with haunting presences. The sphere of family life is transformed, in Davis Grubb's "Where the Woodbine Twineth" or Richard Matheson's "Prey," into an arena of eerie menace. Dramas of madness, malevolent temptation, and vampiristic appropriation play themselves out against the backdrop of modern urban life in John Cheever's "Torch Song" and Shirley Jackson's unforgettable "The Daemon Lover."
Nearly half the stories collected in this volume were published in the last two decades, including work by Michael Chabon, M. Rickert, Brian Evenson, Kelly Link, and Benjamin Percy: writers for whom traditional genre boundaries have ceased to exist, and who have brought the fantastic into the mainstream of contemporary writing.
The 42 stories in this second volume of American Fantastic Tales provide an irresistible journey into the phantasmagoric underside of the American imagination.
In this second installment, Straub ventures onto somewhat more adventurous ground. His selections bring readers completely up to date with the genre, featuring tales from even the newest writers, such as M. Rickert and Joe Hill. This thorough anthology is likely to replace Fraser and Wise's 1944 Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural as a lib. It foreshadows the careers of writers who may very well turn out to be classics. Straub's reach is admirably broad, bringing to light worthy but under the radar talents such as Jane Rice and Jack Snow, both pulp writers who flourished briefly at the beginning of the "modern" era. Yet, he leaves room for the more mainstream writers: Jerome Bixby, Donald Wandrei, Fritz Leiber, Richard Matheson, and Poppy Z. Brite alongside Shirley Jackson, Paul Bowles, Joy Carol Oates, and Truman Capote. Straub incorporates such writers with originality: choosing, for example, to use Tennessee Williams' "The Mysteries of the Joy Rio" for once rather than his more common "The Vengeance of Nitocris." The anthology has genuinely imaginative writing and editorial vision.
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