Wednesday, January 09, 2019

10 Short Stories I Read in 2018

When it comes to short stories, I'm mostly about horror, but I'm also a sucker for a Christmas Western. Here are the short stories (and a novella or two) that I read last year:

"The Captain of the Pole-Star" by Arthur Conan Doyle

As a Sherlock Holmes fan, I was disappointed by this mediocre ghost story. Or maybe I just expected more from Conan Doyle. "Captain of the Pole-Star" is great at creating a mood, it just never pays off with a satisfying revelation about why these events are happening.

My favorite ghost stories are always also mysteries: learning why a haunting is taking place so that it can be resolved. Conan Doyle is usually great about pulling back the curtain on a mystery, so that's what I wanted here, too. Instead, he leaves the details vague, which is perhaps meant to be unsettling, but I just found frustrating.

"The Canterville Ghost" by Oscar Wilde

Diane and I saw a theatrical version of this story earlier in 2018 and that sparked interest in seeing the TV movie with Patrick Stewart as the Ghost. I decided I needed to finally read Wilde's story over Halloween.

There are some truly spooky elements, but Wilde is more interested in the satirical contrast of American and British cultures than he is in creating dread. It's a fun and funny story, but I prefer the gothic tone and philosophical exploration of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

"Lot No. 249" by Arthur Conan Doyle

This was more like it. After being discouraged by "Captain of the Pole-Star," I loved the mystery and growing horror of "Lot No. 249." It's easy to figure out what's going on ahead of the main character, but that doesn't diminish the extremely cool Old Oxford setting, the excitement of the main character's finally figuring it out, and a crazy great description of his being stalked by a truly dreadful creature.

"The Doll's Ghost" by F Marion Crawford

Unnerving and emotional. A doll "doctor" sends his daughter out into the London streets to make an evening delivery, but she doesn't come home. As a parent, I found it extremely unsettling. As a lover of ghost stories, I found it beautiful. One of my favorites of the year.

"Room in the Dragon Volant" by J Sheridan Le Fanu

A fun setup with a mysterious room in an inn that people keep disappearing from. Unfortunately, the protagonist is stupidly gullible and delivered from the threat against him by exactly 0% of his own ability.

"The Empty House" by Algernon Blackwood

In November, the little bookstore I go to put out a display of little books of Christmas Ghost Stories designed by the cartoonist Seth. After helping read a Christmas ghost story for the Weird Christmas podcast, I was all for following the advice on the books' covers and reviving the Christmas tradition of reading spooky stories for the holiday.

The first one I read was "The Empty House," a simple, but effective story about a woman and her nephew who decide to investigate an allegedly haunted house in their neighborhood. There aren't any mysteries or twists, but Blackwood's descriptions are super creepy and stuck with me after I finished the story.

"The Diary of Mr. Poynter"by MR James

I'm not sure that the story about a hair monster totally makes sense, but dang James conjures some creepy imagery.

"The Crown Derby Plate" by Marjorie Bowen

So good. Probably my favorite of the year. It's about a woman who goes to an old house to inquire about a missing plate from a set she bought at an estate sale. It's spooky and humorous with a great ending.

"Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk" by Frank Cowper

The final ghost story of the season for me. It's about a guy who goes fishing and winds up stranded on a spooky, derelict boat. It's nicely atmospheric with great details and I like how it leaves the backstory ambiguous. The narrator bugged me though, both in his defensiveness about his story being disbelieved and his foolishness in getting into the mess he got into in the first place.

"A Journey in Search of Christmas" by Owen Wister

I finished out the year with this sweet story of a cowboy on holiday who starts out looking for drink and maybe revenge (though not the kind you'd expect), but finds Christmas instead.

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