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Think different

I don’t reverse read a book; not even if it claims to reveal Victoria’s Secret in the end. But it was tough to not get charmed by the unusual construction of Joe Hill’s ‘Devil on the Staircase’, the last story in this anthology.

books Updated: Nov 19, 2010 23:37 IST
Rajiv Arora

Stories
Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
Hachette
Rs 59, pp 384


I don’t reverse read a book; not even if it claims to reveal Victoria’s Secret in the end. But it was tough to not get charmed by the unusual construction of Joe Hill’s ‘Devil on the Staircase’, the last story in this anthology. Its paragraphs, in versified prose, are laid out in the shape of stairways and recount a boy’s hitting a person because he “hated his black face”, his subsequent going down into the netherworld, striking a Faustian deal of sorts and returning with a canary that sings to people’s lies. Style doesn’t bereave Hill’s creation of substance, and the volume comes to a chic end.

It also begins in a similarly gilded way with Roddy Doyle’s ‘Blood’ where the lead gets an eerie craving of tasting the red stuff. In ‘Juvenal Nyx’ by Walter Mosley, a dandy black man, who’s forced to carry forward the ‘bloody’ tradition, puts to good use his newfound powers. Joyce Carol Oates yarns a tale of twins, one fit and popular while the other malformed and a no-count, right from when they’re inside the womb till their death. ‘Fossil Figures’ is a stirring account of the ties that bind, whether or not one wants to be tied up. Joanne Harris’ ‘Wildfire In Manhattan’ has superannuated gods running for their lives. It, in a way, reminds of American Gods, an earlier novel by Neil Gaiman, who’s co-edited this anthology with Al Sarrantonio. Gaiman’s own contribution, ‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain’, cranks fun up a notch with a midget’s treasure hunt in a mythical cave from which only the brave or the reckless can escape.

In Joe R Lansdale’s ‘The Stars Are Falling’, Deel Arrowsmith, a WWI war soldier returns to his farm, wife and son and tries to fill the void that his absence has created in the three lives. But that’s water under the bridge and Deel, uneasy with the developments, gets down to setting things right.

This is just a teaser of the spread of 27 thematically unrelated stories, which celebrate, as Gaiman emphatically proclaims in the introduction, “…the joy of imagination, set free from the world…”. The introduction is a short tale in itself, touching on many aspects of the art of writing in the present, masturbatory times where writing 140 characters is also an ego trip for many. Gaiman suggests that one way of writing a page-turner (which Stories is by all means) is to compel readers into asking a cardinal question: “and then what happened?” Agreed. But since good writing is not a one-way street, there must also be a criterion to pick out a quality reader from mediocre ones? Gaiman stays mum on the topic. But the subsequent pages make it clear that if a reader doesn’t find Stories to be up his alley, it’s not because the writing in the book isn’t up to the mark, but perhaps because...