The Uncanny Reader: Stories from the Shadows

uncannyreaderEdited by Marjorie Sandor
St. Martin’s Griffin ($19.99)

Editor Marjorie Sandor defines “the uncanny” not as a literary genre, exactly, but rather as a “genre buster, a kind of viral strain”; she acknowledges that the word itself is slippery and “uncertain.” It’s an intriguing, if precarious, concept on which to base a short story collection, especially one as wide-ranging and ambitious as this: The Uncanny Reader spans two centuries, several continents, and a multiplicity of genres. This variety is both a selling point and a fault—with such numerous viewpoints, there’s bound to be something for everyone and readers are unlikely to be bored; however, with its loose overarching concept, the book can’t help but feel somewhat scattered. The collection opens with E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman,” originally published in 1817. In its forty pages, the tale oscillates from epistolary to third-person narration, from domestic drama to science fiction, and from horror to social satire. This variety of genres and moods in the opening story sets the tone nicely for the collection itself: diverse, entertaining, and alternately chilling and frustrating. Sandor uses narrative themes such as automatons, the defamiliarization of the domestic setting, and the monstrous feminine, incorporating them into many of her selections and creating recurrences that make the book satisfying and whole. However, occasionally the reader is left scratching her head as to exactly why a story has been included. The Uncanny Reader’s strength lies in its breadth, but it would have been even stronger with a firmer uniting focus to give it depth.

2016 Really Short Review. Return to Really Short Reviews