Sunday, January 07, 2007

Birds and Mice and Frozen Goldfish Bowls

I acquired some of my favorite short story collections via TAB, The Teen-Age Book Club, when I was in junior high.

From TAB, a few quarters would purchase various young adult novels, comic strip compilations and other material deemed suitable to sell to kids in school. Every couple of months the teacher would send off an order and in due time a box would arrive with everyone's choices.

Though it wasn't branded horror, Stories of Suspense, (1963) edited by Mary E. MacEwen, had much to chill, tingle and tantilize the imagination. I didn't know it then but it packaged stories by some of the finest purveyors of literary thrills.

The lead story "The Birds" by Daphne duMaurier had already scared me as a Hitchcock movie by the time I read it, but the slim volume also included a host of other fabulous tales.

"Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keys - the short story that lead to the film Charly and a novel-length version. Though I later read the novel-length iteration, the shorter tale of Charlie Gordon is still the most poignant. The impact of Charlie's transition from mentally challenged to genius and back again is more concise and affecting in a few pages.

"Charles" by Shirley Jackson - a wry, clever entry by the brilliant mistress of the macabre, a juncture of her tales of the strange and her musings as a mother.

"Contents of a Dead Man's Pockets" by Jack Finney - one of two Finney tales in the collection. I didn't know who he was then. I was to discover The Body Snatchers later in a movie-tie-in edition with the Donald Sutherland version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I was also to discover "Contents" was included in my mom's literature book as "An Untitled Story." It's indeed a story of suspense, unbearable suspense as a man whose wife has gone to the movies attempts to retrieve important business notes from his apartment's ledge. Only to have the finicky window trap him outside. We join him in his thoughts, wondering if he can hold on through the cartoon, short subject and the feature and ultimately through a re-evaluation of priorities.

"The Perfectionist" by Margaret St. Clair (aka Idris Seabright) - a wonderfully chilling, in more ways than one, journey into the strange world of a young man and his off-beat aunt who dabbles in painting. When she switches from still-life to living subjects she discovers it's challenging to get the detail right on things that move. Dammit!

The volume also includes works by John Collier, Roald Dahl and Lord Dunsany and while other books have come and gone from my collection I've always held onto this one.

If you see it at a used book store grab it. If not, look for the individual stories if you haven't read them. They're fab tales all.


Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Here in Chicago we ordered from The Weekly Reader. I bought my first Lovecraft book, THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE, for something like 75 cents. I had to read that Jack Finney story in high school. Years later, after having read MANY things by Finney, I was doing one of my "quests" by trying to find out the author's name of my favorite story from Bogan High. I called the main Library's reference desk and was immediately told by some guy that it was Finney and then we talked for 20 minutes about TIME TIMES 3 and INVASION...the screen name I wanted toi get but was taken was MilesBennel.

Sidney said...

Yeah, Miles Bennel would be a cool screen name to have.

At one school or another I ordered from Weekly Reader also. I suspect it was all the same thing just with different branding i.e. TAB must've been designed to sound good to 6th graders.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have this book, and I got it the same way you did, in grade school. "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket's" is still one of my favorite stories. "Two bottles of Relish" by Dunsany is also a masterpiece of the "sudden" ending.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

God...I used to love it when they had book sales at school. It was probably the only time I had a chance to buy books when I was a kid. I can even tell you the first book..that I remember...duh...The Forbidden Door..something about interdimensional travel. I also remember The Phantom Tollbooth. Outstanding book, that.

Sidney said...

Yeah, "Relish" is a good story too. I was just looking back at the synopsis on the back cover - probably the same thing they put in that littl e newspring circular from which we ordered - "Tales of shock and suspense, of strange twists hidden in a shadow world of fear."

I have not read "The Forbidden Door" but yeah, Phantom Tollbooth is cool. I kind of like the movie too - love where he's driving in and out of reality to cartoon.

You know, I have an autographed picture of Butch Patrick aka Eddie Munster but I guess that's another story.

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