Six Scary Stories

November 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

sixSix Scary Stories selected by Stephen King

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As part of a promotion of the British publication of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King picked the winner of a scary short-story contest. Out of a pool of over 800 stories, editors winnowed them down to six, from which King picked the winner. He found it tough, tough enough to think that the stories needed to be published together. Six Scary Stories is the end result of that contest. Being the horror nut (and King fan) that I am, of course I was going to read this.

“Wild Swimming” by Elodie Harper was the winner, and is also the story that opens to collection, as well as serves as the inspiration for the cover. I thought that was a little strange. Why not lead up to the (supposed) best story in the collection instead of opening with it? Regardless, the story has a nice eerie feel to it, though I don’t know if I would call it scary. I think it suffers a bit for being written in an epistolary style; the characterization feels lacking, and it forces the conclusion to come from a different narrator.

“Eau-de-Eric” by Manuela Saragosa follows, and is, to me, a creepier story than the winner. Taste is subjective, of course, but I found the idea of a teddy bear that smelled like the memories of a dead father more effective than something still living in an underwater village. It ended rather suddenly, enough to make me wonder if the contest had a story length limit in place.

The next story is “The Spots” by Paul Bassett Davies, and is a different story than what I would call “scary”. It’s unnerving, to be sure, in the same way that fascism is. It’s a more realistic look at what scares, and in the current political climate, it’s even relevant. I guess when I think of scary stories, though, I think of horror, and when I think of horror, I think of the supernatural. This is more a cautionary near-future science-fiction story to me.

“The Unpicking” by Michael Button was the best-written of the six stories, even if I didn’t find it to be as effective as the others. It had the best narrative, felt more self-contained than the rest, and seemed like it had the most to say. If I hadn’t figured out how the story was going to end as soon as the possibility entered the story, I might feel differently about it overall.

“La Mort de L’Amant” by Stuart Johnstone reminded me a lot of “The Near Departed” by Richard Matheson, which is both unsurprising (the author mentions Matheson’s influence in his introduction) and positive. I’ve always had a soft spot for that story, as it’s short and effective, right up to the last sentence. Johnstone does a wonderful job with this story, which was written as a response to “avoid clichés like the plague”.

“The Bear Trap” by Neil Hudson concludes the collection, and it’s interesting to note that three of the six stories here feature stuffed animals. Hudson takes a turn into The Stand territory with his story here, since it’s set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it’s not a copycat story by any means. It’s a short, sharp punch to the jaw.

This collection is slim — 126 pages, counting the frontispiece, with wide margins and full pages dedicated to the about-the-author and how-King-influenced-me paragraphs that introduce each story. I’m sure the authors are thrilled to be published alongside King’s name, but readers may find themselves wanting more. Certainly, there are other short-story collections at this price point that offer more than this one does.

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