White (Elephants Never Forget, 2012, etc.) assembles a plethora of his stories to thrill and disturb in this creepy short story collection.
Comprising 28 stories, each either an award-winning tale or a previously published yarn, White’s collection stays true to its title: The stories all have death, and each has a twist. The collection as a whole is humorously “read” by the Grim Reaper, who introduces the stories one by one to readers while mercilessly belittling the author’s abilities. He claims, among many other things, that White “surpasses his lack of literary talent only by his absence of writing skill.” Nonetheless, Death is willing to “help” the author because all the stories have what he considers a happy ending: “Someone dies.” The stories aren’t long-lived, either—the lengthiest clocks in at 10 pages—but this is no bare-bones read: White explores a broad range of characters, scenarios and topics, all enjoyable. There are touching tales, such as “Beneath the Wintry Sky” about enemy soldiers meeting on Christmas Eve, or thought-provoking ones, including “Grackle Trap” and “Emily Wasn’t There,” the latter of which combines powerful action and confusion to excellent effect. Many readers will be satisfied with the bread-and-butter of the collection: insidiously disturbing stories like “Much Quieter in the House.” White’s writing pulls readers in quickly; in just a few paragraphs, he can shape a whole story. The dark side of that coin, however, is that a number of his best stories read like the first chapter of a book, and there’s never more to hang on to than the ghost of the novella that might have been.
Don’t fear the Reaper; let him read you these quick, creepy stories.