Fifteen stories—more from the A-list, several from the B—get down and dirty with the new McSweeney’s genre compilation.
Last year’s McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales proved that you can actually gather a group of fine writers (or Michael Chabon and the cool folks at McSweeney’s can) and get them to turn in a collection of ghost stories, mysteries, and thrillers without the least dash of condescension. This second volume proves no different, with a superb roster of talent and some creepy, inky illustrations from “Hellboy” creator Mike Mignola, to boot. The fun begins with a solid entry from Margaret Atwood, “Lusus Naturae,” about a young girl, shockingly transformed into a literal freak of nature, who hides in the woods and frightens the local children before the inevitable approach of villagers with torches. Roddy Doyle proves adept in the genre with “The Child,” about a man haunted by a spectral young boy. Quickly deciding that this must be an unknown offspring of his, he cycles through his memory of lovers, but the boy’s preternatural pull can’t be denied, a well of dark retribution soon to be unleashed. Stephen King’s “Lisey and the Madman,” about the assassination of a famous author, is entertaining if occasionally too familiar, featuring many of King’s usual tropes (though its air of autobiographical verisimilitude gives an unusual chill to some of the lines). One of the more impressive entries is from pulper Poppy Z. Brite, whose “The Devil of Delray Street” is a well-nuanced and unsentimental piece about a young New Orleans dweller’s haunting by a ghost or devil. Brite’s matter-of-fact approach to some honestly terrifying scenes makes them all the more powerful. Strong entries from China Miéville, David Mitchell, and Charles D’Ambrosio (plus a good but less impressive one from Joyce Carol Oates) round out a first-rate collection.
Thrills, chills, and otherworldly spectacles: a rare anthology that delivers on its superlatives—and then some.