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Now recently republished we have this anthology of American Supernatural Tales with a lovely hardback cover, showing a hand grasping a heart, which is inspired by 'Old Garfield's Heart' by Robert E Howard. This anthology contains twenty six short stories written between 1824-2000, thus showing how supernatural tales have changed to a certain degree over 176 years. We start off here with the more traditional gothic type tale which gradually changes as Henry James started to write things that were more ambiguous and psychological, and so on through to Lovecraft, who gave us his Cthulhu mythos tales, and so on.

We all know that due to copyrights that you won't necessarily have the stories that you may consider the best by some of the authors here, but with the old out of copyright material you do have to wonder why certain tales were chosen. The tale chosen here by Henry James for example is 'The Real Right Thing', which isn't the best of his supernatural short stories. There are a few others like this, but to balance it out I have to be honest and say that there are some real corkers here. Because a few of these are from the pulp magazines of the period, and then were later published in collections by the authors, some of these are less well known than others, which means they are less likely to be known by you. Some of these stories you will obviously have read before, or even got the collection they are from, such as for example Stephen King. It is great to see some lesser known authors in this country being shown here, and helps give a greater depth to American tales of this genre. It is also interesting to see how the supernatural tales have changed to a certain degree over the years, but you can still see and feel the influence of Poe, James, and Lovecraft on the more modern stories.

This is by no means the definitive anthology of the greatest supernatural short stories from American authors, but it is an enjoyable read, and being in hardback with such a striking piece of artwork this may be something to consider if you are shopping for a present for someone, also the pages have been black edged, giving this a funereal appearance.
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on 27 February 2011
This book was published in 2007 and contained 26 short stories by as many authors. The works ranged from the 1820s (Washington Irving) to 2000 (Caitlin Kiernan). Of all the authors, three were women.

From the 19th century, there were tales by Irving, Hawthorne, Poe, Fitz-James O'Brien, Bierce, Robert Chambers and Henry James. For the period between 1900 and the late 1920s, nothing was included. From the late 20s through the end of WWII, there were Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and Robert Bloch.

The postwar writers through the 1950s were represented by August Derleth, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont; nothing was included for the period between the mid-1950s and 1970. From the 1970s to 2000, there were T. E. D. Klein, Stephen King, Dennis Etchison, Thomas Ligotti, Karl Edward Wagner, Norman Partridge, David J. Schow, Joyce Carol Oates and Kiernan.

The book's introduction named Poe, Bierce and Lovecraft as the three most influential American writers of supernatural tales. Poe transformed many Gothic elements into means of exploring the human soul; many of his best tales showed the breakdown of the mind when faced with the suspension of natural laws. Also important for later writers was his view that an emotion like fear could be generated most effectively by the short story. In contrast to Poe's fevered writing, Bierce provided models of stark, detached, cynical prose in his depictions of irrational fear and supernatural effects; he also effectively incorporated recognizably American settings such as battlefields of the Civil War and the geography of the American West. Lovecraft transformed the supernatural tale by moving beyond ghosts and hauntings to locate the source of dread in "boundless realms of space and time, where entities of the most bizarre sort could plausibly be hypothesized to exist, well beyond the reach of even the most advanced human knowledge." He also mentored or otherwise affected later authors such as Derleth, Bloch, Leiber, Bradbury and Matheson.

In the 1940s and 50s, partly influenced by Lovecraft's direction and partly reacting against his flamboyant tales and language, writers like Leiber, Bradbury, Matheson and Charles Beaumont further expanded the range of the tale by setting it in the present, in cities, small towns and suburbs, and in daily, mundane reality.

Other factors affecting the development of supernatural fiction, as described in the introduction, were the prejudice of mainstream literary critics from at least the 1920s onward against works that departed from strict social realism; the growth of pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, also from the 1920s, that served as havens for the tale; the overtaking of the pulps in the 1950s by fantasy and SF; and the growth of the paperback book market, which generated markets for mystery, the Western, SF and fantasy, but not the supernatural. From the late 1960s/early 1970s, a spate of horror novels by Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty and King and successful film adaptations made horror a blockbuster genre, while King's success as a horror novelist was said to mark the downfall of the short story as the main vehicle for the supernatural.

The 1980s were described as a time of growing attention to newer trends such as dark fantasy -- horror conveyed through subtlety rather than blood and gore -- and splatterpunk -- the graphic depiction of violence, mixed with pop culture references, emphasizing the futility of modern life. The 1990s were described as a time of waning of the horror novel boom, which had spawned much that was mediocre and calculated. Among the current writers worthy of praise, the introduction mentioned Norman Partridge and Caitlin Kiernan (who were included) and Brian Hodge, Douglas Clegg and Jack Cady (who weren't).

Among the classics included in the collection were Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher," O'Brien's "What Was It?" Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu," Leiber's "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" and Klein's "The Events at Poroth Farm." Most enjoyed by this reader were a tale by Hawthorne about a haunted portrait, set in Boston before the American Revolution; Klein's story set on an isolated farm in New Jersey; Ligotti's story that mixed a city seen in dreams and the quest for dark knowledge; and Partridge's rather traditional tale of an Indian spirit, fascinating because it was narrated from the spirit's point of view. The works by Leiber and Beaumont were especially interesting for their social commentary, comparing advertising with vampirism, and conformity with invisibility.

In comparison with, say, supernatural stories by British writers -- W. W. Jacobs, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, E. F. Benson, May Sinclair, D. H. Lawrence, A. M. Burrage, Robert Aickman, L. P. Hartley, Rosemary Timperley, Elizabeth Walter, David Riley and Tanith Lee -- some of the tales from the 1920s onward seemed a bit garish, lacking something in atmosphere or the psychological dimension. Exceptions for this reader were the stories by Smith, Jackson, Matheson, Klein, Ligotti, Wagner and Partridge.
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on 23 September 2008
This is an enjoyable collection of short stories from Washington Irving to Stephen King. My favourites are Lovecrafts "the Call of Cthulu", Robert Blochs "Black Bargain", Clark Ashton Smiths "The Vaults of Yoh- Vombis" and the best "The Events at Poroth farm" by T E D Klein ,chilling indeed. H P lovecraft seems after Poe the most inflential writer of them all, casting his shadow over many of the stories.
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on 18 March 2016
I thought this was a pretty decent supernatural compilation. Though there were a few duds (but that could just be down to personal taste) there were also a few gems (as there always is) and I felt the calibre of stories in this collection was better than what I am used to reading in old books I’ve picked up on the cheap (like the Fontana or Pan collections).

I decided to read this in the order the stories appear (i.e. chronological) just to see if there was any clear difference in writing style over the years. I didn’t notice any and found the older stories were as fresh as the newer ones.

I thought the intro’s to each story were good as they gave a decent amount of background to the author as well as noting collections of their works, some of which I am now on the lookout for.

The book’s introduction and recommended reading chapters were also informative and useful.

On to the stories….

The adventure of the German student – Washington Irving. 1824. 4/10
I enjoyed the writing style of this old and very short story about a strung-out student that dreams of a woman then mysteriously meets said woman on a dark and stormy night sitting at a gallow. Taking pity on her, he takes her home. They get on like a house on fire then she spends the night. The next morning she is dead and a police man arrives and says she was beheaded at the gallows the day before. They remove a band from around her neck and her head falls off. Bizarre story with no explanation. It was just about OK overall.

Edward Randolph’s Portrait – Nathaniel Hawthrone. 1838. 0/10
I found this to be a very dull story about a painting that has become dirty and concealed over time. For some reason the black covering disappears and reveals a man with a ‘horrible countenance’ that freaks everyone out. I had to skim through it because I found it dull and I didn’t get the whole point of the thing.

The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allen Poe. ?
As much as Poe is a highly respected author, I’ve never enjoyed any of his tales. I think I’ve read this one before and I couldn’t be bothered to give it another go, though I do not recall what it is about

What was it? – Fritz-James O’Brien. 1859. 7/10
Quite enjoyed this odd story about an invisible assailant in a supposedly haunted house. A unique and unusual tale.

The Death of Halpin Frayser - Ambrose Bierce. 1891. 0/10
Got so bored with this one half way though that I had to give up. It was very nicely written with some great sentences but the story was just dull.

The Yellow Sign – Robert W Chambers. 1895. 5/10
For the most part I enjoyed reading this story about a painter who notices a weird looking man hanging about outside his apartment and also starts having weird dreams after a model of his says she dreamt about his death. However, the ending was anti climatic as it did not resolve the mysteries built up in the story and I was left feeling unsatisfied.

The Real Right Thing – Henry James. 1899. 0/10
This started out as an interesting story about a journalist who has been hired by a widow to write her deceased husband’s memoirs. At about half way through it became directionless & dull. By the end I was so bored I couldn’t care less.

The Call of the Cthulhu – H P Lovecraft. – 1928. 7/10
Decent weird tale from Lovecraft.

The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis – Clark Ashton Smith. 1932. 8/10
Very enjoyable sci-fi tale about a group of explorers on Mars visiting an ancient abandoned city, whereupon they encounter weird brain-eating things. The story was interesting and the descriptions were great.

Old Garfield’s Heart – Robert E Howard. 1933. 0/10
I found this to be a really boring tale about a man who has lived for hundreds of years due to an Indian giving him an undying heart transplant after said man was injured in battle.

Black Bargain – Robert Bloch. 1942. 7/10
I’ve read a few Bloch stories recently and have enjoyed them all (though none of them are outstandingly good, they are enjoyable reads). I like his writing style and his characters are always quite interesting. ‘Black Bargain’, a story about a pharmacist sick of serving the same old things to the same old clientele, is no exception. Said pharmacist has a customer one evening who requests a number of items that the pharmacist suspects is for use in spell craft and the story develops from there. This tale was very Twilight Zone-esque and I was convinced it must have been a TZ episode but a quick google search has not revealed any TV adaptation of this short story, which I am incredibly surprised about.

The Lonesome Place – August Derleth. 1948. 6/10
Very short story about a couple of kids and their fear of a ‘lonesome place’, which is a large, dark, spooky building at the end of their street. Just when I though it was about to get going I found myself on the last page! It’s a tame story but probably quite a good one for younger readers.

The Girl With the Hungry Eyes – Fritz Leiber. 1949. 6/10
Didn’t enjoy this Leiber story as much as Smoke Ghost which I recently read in The Mammoth Book of Modern Ghost Stories. It was clever in a way, in how it adapted to the idea of the vampire to suit contemporary times (though written in 1949, the concept is still relevant to day as relates to the sucking of our souls through advertising). It made me think, which is why I gave a decent score but not a greatly enjoyable story otherwise.

The Fog Horn – Ray Bradbury. 1951. 0/10
Having previously not been familiar with his work at all, I recently read and enjoyed Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, so look forward to seeing his name in anthologies. However, this story, which is about a sea monster and not supernatural at all (so rather out of place in this book), was pretty dull.

A Visit – Shirley Jackson. 1952. 0/10
This was a long one and from the opening I could tell it was not for me as the characters and situation were quite dull. Half way through I gave up as it was repetitive and uninteresting.

Long Distance Call – Richard Matheson. 1953. 6/10
Very simplistic and straight forward story from Matheson. I like some of Matheson’s film & TV work so was looking forward to reading a short story of his. It was fairly decent with a nice ending. It was a bit tame and I don’t feel like it explored its potential very well though.

The Vanishing American – Charles Beaumont. 1955. 4/10
This story about a man who one day realises he seems to be invisible to everyone around him (social commentary of course) starts out quite intriguing but exactly like the previous story, I don’t feel the potential was explored and it ends on a bit of a dull note.

The Events at Poroth Farm – T.E.D. Klein. 1972. 9/10
Gems like this are the reason I frequently pick up short story anthology books. I don’t think this is a story that would be universally adored – it may be a bit too long and slow for some. But the situation – about a teacher has chosen to rent a barn on a remote farm in a remote location, to briefly get away from the city and spend his time reading and researching horror stories to teach in the next semester – is the type that immediately piques my interest. Then there’s the narrative style, done mostly in flash-back via diary notes and book-ended with a present-time intro and epilogue, which is a literary trope I am also fond of. On top of that there’s the unexplained mystery that builds up and results in an open-ended finale, leaving the reader to ponder on what could possibly come next. I loved it.

Night Surf – Stephen King. 1974. 6/10
The setting of this story is the kind of setting I love to read about or watch in films – where there are just a few survivors left in a world where humans have died out. At first I though this was a zombie-virus type tale but it turned out to be a flu virus that had killed everyone. It focuses on a group of teens who are immune (or at least think they are) to the virus, hanging out in a coastal town, not doing very much. The story had a good desolate atmosphere but it didn’t go anywhere and the ending was abrupt. It felt like the middle of a story, with the beginning and end missing. Not what I would call a supernatural story either.

The Late Shift – Dennis Etchison. 1980. 4/10
Quite a daft and far-fetched story about a company that is in cahoots with a hospital to acquire their recently deceased. Once obtained, the company somehow re-animates them and hires out these dazed & confused walking corpses as cheap labour to all-night convenience stores and the like. It was a ridiculous concept but had some decent atmosphere, hence the score of 4.

Vastarien – Thomas Ligotti. 1987. 0/10
Wasn’t impressed by this story that was saturated with mysteries that went nowhere. A mysterious dream world opening, a mysterious bookshop, a mysterious customer, a mysterious bookshop owner, a mysterious book. All leading up to a twist conclusion that the protagonist is in a mental home. A bit lame.

Endless Night – Karl Edward Wagner. 1987. 4/10
A short story that seemed to be comprised of different dream sequences. No real storyline. It wasn’t terrible but wasn’t great either.

The Hollow Man – Norman Partridge. 1981. 0/10
Dead boring tale from the POV of some kind of man-eating creature in the woods that attacks some campers. Boring.

Last Call for the Sons of Shock – Davis J Schow. 1994. 0/10
Dead, dead boring story that I couldn’t finish. Some actors from old horror movies have got together in a bar for a chat. Nothing was happening and the conversation was dire.

Demon – Joyce Carol Oates. 1996. 0/10
Pretty naff tale about a kid who apparently has the mark of the demon (a pentangle) on his eyeball, which has caused him to be ostracised somewhat. As a result he does a bit nuts one day and gouges his eye out. Not very interesting.

In the Water Works – Caitlin R Keirnan. 19?? 5/10
Strangely, no date is included with this story but since the book is written in chronological order I assume it was written in the 90’s. Anyway, it’s an OK tale but totally predictable and doesn’t have much repeat reading value. It’s about a teacher/archaeologist in Birmingham, Alabama who is digging up rocks and fossils from the inside of a mountain where a tunnel is currently being built. The workmen have discovered a weird, octopus-like creature in a cavern & they ask said archaeologist to take a look. He does, he describes the monster, no one knows what it is but it’s so grotesque that they block up the hole. The end. Not really a supernatural story.
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on 5 November 2008
Many of the stories and certainly more than half are pretty poor and i don't rate any in here as masterpieces of the supernatural and i have read better stories by most of the writers however it is still entertaining. Joshi's Introduction is as interesting as many of the stories. There is plenty of hum drum writing here which is unfortunately the case with much supernatural fiction but there are gems as well. Personally i find most of Lovecraft's followers much better writers than him and his "Call of Cthulhu" is terribly poor and at times hilarious. He spends all 30 pages saying the same thing in increasingly muddled prose. The Best ?, Klein's "Events at Poroth Farm" and Caitlin R Kiernans "In the Water works, Birmingham Alabama 1888", who i had never previously heard of. Klein mentions Arthur Machen's "The White People" in his story but anyone looking for supernatural fiction of that standard will be very dissapointed. Henry James, probably the most literary amongst this collection isn't that well served with "The real right thing", they should have just put in the turn of the screw. The collection could have earned an extra star with the inclusion of F. Marion Crawford's "The Blood is the Life", which is as good as American Supernatural Fiction has been.
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