McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

By Edric, Robert | The Spectator, October 25, 2003 | Go to article overview

McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales


Edric, Robert, The Spectator


Tales of the expected MCSWEENEY'S MAMMOTH TREASURY OF THRILLING TALES edited by David Eggers and Michael Chabon Hamish Hamilton, L14.99, pp. 497, ISBN 0241142318

Introducing the first true Dave Eggers' McSweeney production (and it is a production - jacket, binding, illustrations, chapter headings and all) to be published here, Michael Chabon explains that the starting point for this eclectic collection is the notion that all the short genre fiction which once supported American magazines of the Fifties should be considered no less valid a part of the present literary landscape as the 'sparkling, plotless and epiphanic' stories of which it is all too often currently comprised. Where today, he asks - and here one has to wonder how hard he actually looked - is the ghost story, the horror story, the detective story, the story of suspense, terror, fantasy or the macabre? Where, he ponders, is the sea adventure, the spy, war or historical story?

Well, never fear, McSweeney's here with 20 contemporary takes on these supposedly long-lost and forgotten genres. All new, never before seen, original stories by Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Elmore Leonard, Michael Chabon, Dave Eggers et al.

Best read individually with only a guttering candle for illumination, and with a gusty wind rattling the shutters, these tales are intended for the sophisticated modern reader who has lost, abandoned or forfeited the need or ability to be thrilled, shocked, amazed or bewildered.

It seems churlish therefore to complain that many of these tales fall short of the lofty and unsustainable claims made for them - Leonard, Eggers, King and Crichton in particular - or to insist that one needs to enter into the spirit of the thing too completely and too unquestioningly truly to enjoy the collection as it was intended to be enjoyed. But happily (or sadly; either will do) the world has changed considerable since 1950, and whereas certain readers might be willing to suspend disbelief, anticipation, expectation and second-guessing, it is still difficult not to come away from some of these stories without a taste of dust in one's mouth, and wondering if, in a more considered combination of the conventions (some might say cliches) of the various genres and a more contemporary, knowing idiom, something more satisfying might not have been accomplished. …

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