Book Review: Halloween: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre

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h2Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre
Paula Guran, ed.
Prime Books
Trade paper, $15.95
Ebook $6.99

For the final selection of Six Weeks of Scares, I thought we could take a look at an original anthology of Halloween stories. Prime Books has become one of the top publishers of anthologies, both reprint and original. Most of their anthologies have themes. In the hands of other publishers, that could be a red flag. Not so in this case.

Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre is quite strong. Guran has assembled a selection that varies broadly in tone, theme, and setting while (mostly) maintaining a Halloween theme. The one arguable exception is “Whilst the Night Rejoices Profound and Still” by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Set on a far future Mars after Earth has become uninhabitable, Halloween has changed so much that, while horrific, I’m not sure it can be called the same holiday. YMMV. I did find the backstory of a war over resources among the domed cities to be haunting.

There are 18 stories here, all of them good and of professional level. There’s something here for everyone, probably several somethings. Rather than give a blurb about each one, I’ll highlight some of the ones that resonated most with me.

“Thirteen” by Stephen Graham Jones is a heart rending coming of age story about lost love and a movie theater in which, under certain circumstances, the movies can become real. Norman Partridge provides one of the longer stories in the book with “The Mummy’s Heart”, an account of two brothers’ intervention with a madman’s attempt to kill an young girl and the lifelong consequences of their actions. One of the creepiest stories was “The Halloween Man” by Maria V. Snyder. This one takes place in an imaginary world, and the Halloween aspect seemed tacked on as a result. That doesn’t matter, because the air of menace and decay hanging over this one sucked me in. I’d like to visit this world some more; vicariously, of course.

A. C. Wise ventures into Ray Bradbury country with “For the Removal of Unwanted Guests”, in which a man opens the door in his new home and discovers that a witch has decided to move in. This was probably the most bittersweet selection in the book. There are also echoes of Bradbury in the setup of “We, the Fortunate Bereaved” by Brian Hodge. In this one, a small town has an unusual Halloween ritual in which one of the residents who died in the past year comes back and animates a scarecrow on the town green. Hodge infuses this one with unusual depth, resulting in a story that stayed with me after I’d finished it.

Laura Bickle takes us to Kansas before the Dust Bowl to examine bargains and sacrifices in “From Dust”. This was another one in which Halloween played a minimal role, but again, it hardly mattered. The final story that I thought stood out was Barbara Roden’s “All Souls Day”, in which a woman takes a colleague to visit a house from her childhood she believed to have been haunted. The author is one of the publishers of Ash-Tree Press, a small press specializing in ghost stories of the classic vein. She’s not particualry prolific, but Roden has compiled a small body of work that has established her as one of the foremost modern practitioners of the traditional ghost story.

All of the stories here are worth reading, but these were the ones that left an impression on me. Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre is a top-notch anthology, and one well worth picking up. Oh, and you should read the About the Editor piece as well.

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