Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
The intent of the editors of Stories, Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, was to put together an anthology of stories that 'force us to turn the page' stories that use the lightest touch of magic to cast a new light on things we have already seen 'a thousand times before'. On the whole I'd say the editors achieved their aim, each story fulfills at least one of those criteria and a good many of them fulfill both but it has to be said that these are mostly crime/murder/mystery stories, even those in a fantasy wrapper, which makes it a collection best dipped in and out of rather than consumed in a single sitting.

There are some twenty-seven short stories in total so rather than regurgitating them all I'll pick out a few highlights. We start off in style with Roddy Doyle's 'Blood', a vampire story where the central character is a middle-class, middle-aged man in the middle of a mid-life crisis which leaves him craving things he ought not be craving and tip-toeing round his wife with the lies he tells to cover it up. Slickly written and nicely open at the end it's a slick little tale that sets the right tone for what's to come.

Next up is Joyce Carol Oates strange story about self featuring mismatched twins, one healthy, strong, popular and successful, the other sickly, broken, alone and poor and as the one creates beautiful pictures and finds success so the other begins to lose these things. The story tracks their lives, together at birth, separate through life, together again at death and is a beautifully crafted tale that richly rewards the reader. In 'The Stars are Falling' by Joe R. Lansdale a soldier returns home from WWI a very different man, to a very different and estranged wife who thought he was dead and a child that doesn't know him. This is exacerbated when
he discovers the truth behind the relationship between Tom, a local man who has been helping with household chores, and his wife and from there you know things will only end tragically, and they do.

'Weights and Measures' by Jodi Piccoult is one of the highlights of the entire anthology and tells the tale of Abe and Sarah who grow increasingly distant following the death of their daughter. With a simple yet ingenius twist Piccoult takes what would usually be the emotional states of each of the couple and makes it physical so that, over time, Sarah starts growing in size while Abe shrinks. Beautifully written, heart-achingly sad and utterly compelling.

Amongst the more light-hearted tales is Michael Swanwick’s 'Goblin Lake' in which a man is plunged into a lake to find himself amongst the inhabitants who, it transpires, are all characters in a book. After a fun time amongst the people and, in particular, amongst the king's daughter, he must decide whether to stay within the safe confines of the books pages or go back to the uncertainty of the real world. It's a nicely philosophical tale with a nice old fashioned fairy tale feel about it and I enjoyed it immensely.

'Catch and Release' by Lawrence Block uses the old fishing term to tell the story of a serial killer who cruises the highways and byways stalking his prey but then, once he's 'caught' them he 'releases' them, giving him the thrill of the chase without the guilt of the kill. From the start the tone of the piece is sinister, pushing the reader slightly off-kilter, and the twist in the tale is as humorous as it is disturbing. 'Samantha’s Diary' by Diana Wynne Jones takes the traditional Christmas carol 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' and makes it all-too-real for the eponymous heroine courtesy of a secret admirer. Very funny and very contemporary, it's such a simple idea that I can't believe that it hasn't been done

Amongst the other good stories in the collection are Carolyn Parkhurst’s 'Unwell' which gives us a spiteful old lady who throughout her life has stopped at nothing to get her own way but despite this she is a compelling character and fun to read. 'The Therapist' by Jeffrey Deaver is a courtroom drama narrated by the accused, a psychiatrist who has the knack of knowing when someone is about breakdown in the worse way and acts to save them and others by killing in order to cure. Human Intelligence by Kurt anderson is a neat little story about an alien who's secret is discovered after he has been living on earth for thousands of years and is finally ready to give up his secrets.

In the end this is a great anthology filled with some truly wonderful short stories that I'd have no hesitation in recommending to anyone. It's a little bit repetitive given the preponderance of murder stories but if you consume it in bite sized chunks rather than in one sitting that aspect becomes less apparent and makes
the whole thing very enjoyable.

Stories is published by Headline and is available from The Book Depository, Blackwell and all good book stores.

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