I could say I have been hungry for short stories but I didn’t know it until I saw the fat book sitting there on the shelf, as if waiting for me. The cover promised rich short stories by writers like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Tad Williams, Anne Rice and many more, just perfect for sinking my teeth into on my commute to and from work. I must confess that I have a soft spot for horror stories, and vampire tales fit into that category nicely. Taking the book from the shelf and leafing through only emphasized my desire to take it home and start eating. I mean reading, of course, reading.
It was good, quite good, better than I expected. The risk with buying a short story collection is that you may like some stories but you may also dislike others, and while for me the balance usually makes it worth buying the book, this time I can’t complain at all. Blood drips from every story, sometimes it’s a little and sometimes it’s whole buckets, and what I liked even more is that some of the stories go that extra step into the horrific. One that comes to mind is Joe Hill’s Abraham’s Boys which I read around 7 o’clock on a beautiful morning on my way to work – I remember distinctly the sun coming through the taxi window on my left, and so bright it made me wish I hadn’t forgotten my sunglasses at home – nevertheless, the end of that story put an icy shiver through me and I’m glad I read it in full daylight. I remember Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box which I read a couple of years ago and while I enjoyed it, this short story was far better, or to be more in sync with the vampire vocabulary, it was horrifyingly good.
Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples was another story I particularly enjoyed. The classic Snow White fairytale gets a revamp (pun intended) and while reading it I was pleasantly surprised to see how the author had managed to stick to many of the original details and also incorporate vampire-related elements to make the story truly unique and also quite creepy. Let’s just say I like the stepmother this time around, and not the beautiful princess.
Some of the stories I’ve read before – Stephen King’s One for the Road where the weather combined with the vampire threat makes for quite a chilling combo and The Master of Rampling Gate by Anne Rice, a story about an inherited old house and an apparently odd request for it to be torn down.
One of the most intriguing stories was The Vechi Barbat by Nancy Kilpatrick, which brings into focus a Romanian girl whose tale about the ancient man who lived in her village reminded me of home. It was a bit disconcerting to turn the page and see words in my native language mixed into an English book like some strange exotic blood used to enhance this feast of stories. But perhaps the oddest tale was Exsanguinations: A Handbook for the Educated Vampire by Anna S. Oppenhagen-Petrescu (translated from the Romanian by Catherynne M. Valente) which is written in the form of a journal/biography and in such a way that it made me wonder if it wasn’t real. Then again, it is a book about vampires and they have been known to play with people’s minds as well as sucking their blood.
I enjoyed this book a lot – the different types of vampires and the little introductory notes at the beginning of each story made for a varied combination perfectly designed to satisfy every appetite: from the fragile beautiful sexy female vampire, to the merciful horrible shape tamed by the sound of human voices telling stories around the fire, to the brutal killing machine whose only desire is to feed; ancient tales mingle with science, brutality with ethereal beauty, immortality with the vulnerability of the moment, and on top of it all, love, desire and lots of blood, not necessarily in that order. And I’m still hungry.
*read in August 2011