Monday, October 31, 2011

To close out this month of haints and scares, here's a link to a piece I edited for my friend John Williams's lit site, The Second Pass. I asked a number of writers, critics, and bloggers with whom I've discussed scary stories before--Ed Park, John Crowley, James Hynes, Jenny Davidson, Joseph G. Peterson, James Morrison, Andrea Janes, John Eklund, and Will Schofield--to write a couple hundred words about a favorite. The selections vary nicely, from the Victorian golden age of the ghost story to the present, Mars to Maine, psychic visions to psychological trauma. I hope you're as pleased as I am by the recommendations; I also find myself quite cheered by the realization that the Internet made this whole article possible: of the nine contributors, six are people I met first or know solely because of the world of online writing about books.

I picked "Desideratus," a story by Penelope Fitzgerald in which she turns her love of ambiguity and keen eye for strangeness to an incident that, while wholly natural, feels as chillingly strange as any good ghost story. Fitzgerald's too often lumped casually with influences like Jane Austen and Barbara Pym, but she loved M. R. James--to the extent of including a great James pastiche in her novel The Gate of Angels, and the collection from which "Desideratus" is taken, The Means of Escape, actually includes one story, "The Ax," that's constructed with all the precision and chills of a classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents sort of ghost story. Like all of Fitzgerald's work, it's well worth seeking out.

WIth Halloween upon us, you could do worse than to light your jack-o-lantern, set the bowl of candy on the porch, bar the door, and settle in with this collection of recommendations. Make sure your cat is on your lap when you start: you know how they love to jump out at exactly the heart-stoppingly wrong moment--I do, after all, want you with us, in non-ghostly form, for next year's stories.

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