"Hauntings" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Tachyon Publications
Edited by Ellen Datlow
2013, 418 pages, Fiction
Released on April 1st, 2013
Like most people, when I decide whether or not to buy an anthology, I first check the cover (or maybe even the index) to see what authors have stories within it. If I see that it has multiple writers whose works I enjoy, I will more often than not purchase it. However, there's something to be said about the editor (or, in some cases, editors) of these story collections as well. I have a short list of editors that I will buy an anthology of, regardless of whether or not I have even heard of the writers it contains, and Ellen Datlow is at the top of that list. She has this crazy knack of consistently putting together stellar anthologies and Hauntings is no different.
Like its title suggests, Hauntings is a collection of tales centering on ghosts and other hauntings ranging in publication date from 1983 to 2012. It contains a nice mix, from good old-fashioned haunted house stories to a few tales where the prose is more scientific in nature (for example, told via case notes). As in all of the Datlow-edited anthologies I've read, all of the stories are enjoyable, but like in most anthologies, there are some better than others.
My favorite story of the bunch, hands down, is "The Pennine Tower Restaurant" by Simon Kurt Unsworth. This is one that's written in the scientific style that I mentioned above. There is a main character, but he is nothing more than a narrator presenting the evidence of the strange goings on and disappearances that center on the titular eatery. The story consists mainly of names, dates, and interviews, and is rather dry and clinical in nature. Yet the reason why I liked this one the most is how effectively creepy it is. Unsworth manages to frighten you without seeming to try. I mean, of course he's trying, that's the point of the story, but it's done so nonchalantly, it's one that has stuck with me long after I finished the book. It's terrifying. I should also mention, it's so well done, that my fool ass actually Googled the Penine Tower Restaurant. While it is, in fact, a real place (and apparently The Beatles did stop there as the author suggests in his story), there is no mention of hauntings. I would be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little disappointed.
E. Michael Lewis' "Cargo" is a tragic tale about a Loadmaster charged with handling the cargo of the child victims of the Jonestown Massacre. It's not so much creepy (where it is in parts) as terribly sad. Lewis takes a horrific piece of history and respectfully tells a poignant tale from a side you tend to not think about; the shipping of the bodies back to the States.
The straight up haunted house stories "Where Angels Come In" by Adam L. G. Nevill and "Haunted" by Joyce Carol Oates are both equally compelling. While each reinforces the fact that you need to be staying out of that old abandoned house, they do it in vastly different ways. While Nevill's story is a bit more traditional (two boys meet far more than they bargained for when exploring their town's notorious home), Oates' tale takes a slightly more brutal route that borders more on something that could have been real than not.
While the majority of the stories in Hauntings cover those of the supernatural kind, Pat Cadiagan's "Eenie, Meenie, Ipsateenie" follows Milo, a man struggling with the unintentional mistakes he made when he was a somewhat bullied child. This is the least scary of the bunch, but it's also the most damning, with an ambiguous ending that is more effective the more you dwell on it.
There are 24 stories in this collection, and while the ones above were my favorites, the remainder are more than enjoyable. I could easily (and happily) discuss each one, but that would mean you would be still be reading this review when you should be reading Hauntings. Go pick it up.