I've mentioned here that I'm teaching a Science Fiction and Fantasy class this term, and it's a timely accident that I happened to read Ben Loory's short story collection, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day in conjunction with it! As I was reading back through a collection of traditional (twisted!) folk and fairy tales, I was also reading a collection of contemporary (twisted!) fairy tales in my free time.
What makes a contemporary fairy tale? A lot of novels and collections are marketed as "modern day fairy tales," but I've never truly read a collection of contemporary tales that so accurately reflect traditional folk and fairy tales.
First off, the stories are short. Some are less than a page long while others max out between five and ten pages. The characters are vague with names like "A boy" or "A girl." While the characters are Everyman and Everywoman, the stories are anything but bland or nondescript. They're crazy, odd, gross, troubling, affecting, sad, joyful, stunning. Given the average length of the story, I would venture to guess there are nearly 50 stories in this book. I don't have it with me or I'd start counting. It's a huge number, though, in comparison to run-of-the-mill story collections.
In the second story in the collection, titled "The Pool" a man thinks he sees a shark in his local public swimming pool. He's shamed when no one else sees it and they all look at him like he's crazy. The next day he asks the life guard if he ever sees anything odd in the pool, and his cryptic answer taunts the man into following up on his suspicions. He climbs the fence to find out for himself. He stretches out on the diving board and stares into the darkness of the water for hours and hours. Just before dawn he realizes what's staring back from the blackness.
Whaahahahahahaaa! That's my evil laugh (sorry, couldn't help myself)
"The Pool" really sent shivers up my spine. I don't want to tell you what's staring back or what happens in the end, but if you'd like to find out for yourself, you can check out the Amazon.com preview of the book. It includes this story in its entirety.
While "The Pool" is brief, it has a stark, troubling impact, and it's representative of numerous stories in this collection. Many of the characters find themselves facing dark elements: death, horror, realizations about life and suddenly they become part of the death and destruction they face in the world. This type of tale reminded me of the Nietzsche quote, "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." Don't get me wrong -- this collection is NOT a downer, but I happened to find this kind of tale the most memorable.
It's really difficult to describe this book fairly and accurately because with such a mass of stories and such varied, odd content, it doesn't fit into any genre cleanly. The only problem I had, was that sometimes the stories were too short and obscure enough that they simply left me scratching my head. Although, if I read a collection of traditional fairy tales all in a row, I do the same thing. This book is probably best digested in chunks. A binge of stories here and there instead of racing through.
If you're looking for another book to add to your RIP VI challenge pool, I definitely suggest Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. It's original, fun, and offbeat -- definitely one I'd discuss with a group. If you finish it come on back and discuss it with me!