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BOOK REVIEWS: February 1999
By Paula Guran

SMOKE AND MIRRORS: SHORT FICTIONS AND ILLUSIONS
Neil Gaiman
Avon/$24/337 p.
ISBN 0-380-97364-2
(Now available in paperback)

book cover Neil Gaiman (The Sandman and Neverwhere) apparently possesses a bottomless magic well of imagination and his recent collection, Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, provides a brimming dipper from it for readers thirsty for unique fantasy. A dozen of the thirty or so stories and poems in Smoke and Mirrors -- including the memorable lead story "Chivalry," the tale of an unflappable widow who finds the Holy Grail in a secondhand shop -- first saw print in his award-winning Angels and Visitations, a small press miscellany of stories, poems, essays, articles, and reviews, originally published for the 1993 World Fantasy Convention. Some stories -- like "Snow, Glass, Apples," a retelling of "Snow White" -- are already fairly well-known through popular anthologies and reprintings in "year's best" collections. Familiarity, in Gaiman's case, breeds only further admiration, but SMOKE AND MIRRORS contains plenty of newer stories, too -- such as the darkly erotic "Tastings" and "Bay Wolf," a combination of "Beowulf" and, er, "Baywatch." Gaiman's incantatory storytelling ignites both the bitter and the sweet and its smoke twists and seeps into dark corners, wafts into the light and amusing, even wends poignantly into the heart: nothing he writes should be missed.

GOTHIC HORROR: A READER'S GUIDE FROM POE TO KING AND BEYOND
Edited by Clive Bloom
St. Martin's Press/$19.95 /300p.
ISBN: 0-312-21239-9

book cover A compilation of literary commentary, Gothic Horror: A Reader's Guide from Poe to King and Beyond provides an abundance of excellent essays and extracts from a variety of sources -- Edgar Allan Poe (on how he wrote "The Raven"), Lafcadio Hearn, a symposium on Lovecraft that included Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber, a Playboy interview with Stephen King, for example -- but with an emphasis on contemporary scholarly accounts. British academic Clive Bloom's editorial selections are comprehensive and Gothic Horror provides plenty of theory and insight for serious aficionados of dark fiction. Bloom on his own, however, is somewhat disappointing. The information he provides with his chronology of significant horror and ghost tales from 1840 to 1996 is useful, but only up to about 1980. The introduction is mired in murky writing and minor inaccuracies -- he credits Stephen King with inventing the term "splatterpunk" -- leading one to wish the professor had had a bit more editorial guidance. But his knack for finding and choosing the best bits from other mavens of the macabre makes up for the introductory inadequacies.

SHADOW CHILD
Joseph A. Citro
University Press of New England/$12.95/282 p.
ISBN: 0874518849

book cover After his wife dies in a tragic accident, English professor Eric Nolan is on the verge of collapse. He returns to the family farm in Vermont, now occupied by his cousin and her husband, but instead of finding the peace he seeks, Eric is disturbed by a series of strange disappearances and odd events. Joseph Citro quietly builds suspense in Shadow Child as he spins out his gothic yarn in the best New England tradition of scary storytellers. A valid grounding in folklore and myth lend verisimilitude as do the fictional letters, newspaper clippings, diary excerpts, and historical testimony concerning earlier mysterious doings interspersed between chapters. Citro's clean, clear writing, and somewhat distant but distinct style effectively convey the chills in this handsome reissue of his 1987 novel.


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