American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now

American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now

by Peter Straub
     
 

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The second volume of Peter Straub's pathbreaking two-volume anthology American Fantastic Tales picks up the story in 1940 and provides persuasive evidence that the decades since then have seen an extraordinary flowering. While continuing to explore the classic themes of horror and fantasy, successive generations of writers—including Shirley Jackson, RaySee more details below

Overview

The second volume of Peter Straub's pathbreaking two-volume anthology American Fantastic Tales picks up the story in 1940 and provides persuasive evidence that the decades since then have seen an extraordinary flowering. While continuing to explore the classic themes of horror and fantasy, successive generations of writers—including Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Stephen King, Steven Millhauser, and Thomas Ligotti—have opened up the field to new subjects, new styles, and daringly fresh expansions of the genre's emotional and philosophical underpinnings. For many of these writers, the fantastic is simply the best available tool for describing the dislocations and newly hatched terrors of the modern era, from the nightmarish post-apocalyptic savagery of Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" to proliferating identities set deliriously adrift in Tim Powers' "Pat Moore."

"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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

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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Globe and Mail
Normally when one uses the phrase "essential reading" in a review, one qualifies it: "Title X is essential reading for people who . . . " There's no such qualification here: American Fantastic Tales is essential reading. Full stop. Every story is rewarding in its own right, but the overall effect of the volumes is staggering. The familiar stories, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wall Paper and Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream stand alongside horror writing from figures not normally known for such writing, including Vladimir Nabokov and Michael Chabon, and a new generation of writers unfamiliar to those whose experience of horror stories ended with their adolescence, including Kelly Link and Caitlin Kiernan.

Black Gate
Fortunately, a perfectly apropos choice landed on my doorstep last month, compliments of the Library of America. Peter Straub's two-volume American Fantastic Tales, subtitled Terror and the Uncanny, is one of those genre-defining collections, a banquet of spooky fall reading that will likely last me months. And just like Thanksgiving, it's unapologetically American in focus.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781598530483
Publisher:
Library of America
Publication date:
10/01/2009
Pages:
750
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 8.16(h) x 1.25(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Peter Straub is one of America’s foremost authors of supernatural and suspense fiction. He is the New York Times bestselling author of a dozen novels, including the horror classic Ghost Story and The Talisman, which he cowrote with Stephen King. His latest novel, Black House—also written with King—is a #1 New York Times bestseller. A past president of the Horror Writers of America and multiple award winner, he lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York City
Date of Birth:
March 2, 1943
Place of Birth:
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Education:
B.A. in English, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1965; M.A., Columbia University, 1966
Website:
http://www.peterstraub.net

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