American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps share button
Peter Straub
Format Hardcover
Dimensions 5.22 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 1.29 (d)
Pages 750
Publisher Library of America
Publication Date October 2009
ISBN 9781598530476
Book ISBN 10 159853047X
About Book
From early on, American literature has teemed with tales of horror, of hauntings, of terrifying obsessions and gruesome incursions, of the uncanny ways in which ordinary reality can be breached and subverted by the unknown and the irrational. As this pathbreaking two-volume anthology demonstrates, it is a tradition with many unexpected detours and hidden chambers, and one that continues to evolve, finding new forms and new themes as it explores the bad dreams that lurk around the edges—if not in the unacknowledged heart—of the everyday. Peter Straub, one of today's masters of horror and fantasy, offers an authoritative and diverse gathering of stories calculated to unsettle and delight.

This first volume surveys a century and a half of American fantastic storytelling, revealing in its 44 stories an array of recurring themes: trance states, sleepwalking, mesmerism, obsession, possession, madness, exotic curses, evil atmospheres. In the tales of Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne, the bright prospects of the New World face an uneasy reckoning with the forces of darkness. In the ghost-haunted Victorian and Edwardian eras, writers including Henry James, Edith Wharton, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Ambrose Bierce explore ever more refined varieties of spectral invasion and disintegrating selfhood.

In the twentieth century, with the arrival of the era of the pulps, the fantastic took on more monstrous and horrific forms at the hands of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, and other classic contributors to Weird Tales. Here are works by acknowledged masters such as Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, Conrad Aiken, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, along with surprising discoveries like Ralph Adams Cram's "The Dead Valley," Emma Francis Dawson's "An Itinerant House," and Julian Hawthorne's "Absolute Evil."

American Fantastic Tales offers an unforgettable ride through strange and visionary realms.


From Barnes & Noble

The Library of America is now adding to its pathbreaking series an exemplary two-volume anthology of fantastic tales of the unknown and the irrational. In the first volume, editor Peter Straub presides over a distinguished roster of authors, including Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, Charles Brocken Brown, Herman Melville, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Robert W. Chambers, Kate Chopin, Lafcadio Hearn, F. Marion Crawford, Ellen Glasgow, Ambrose Bierce, Henry James, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fizgerald, H. P. Lovecraft, and Robert Bloch. A fine addition to a bibliophile's top shelf.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review.

In a time when the Fantastic is regaining popularity in American literature, this wide-ranging collection of horror and supernatural stories is a welcomed reeducation into the genre's roots. Some of the selections are already unquestioned classics-Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," Poe's "Berenice," Gilman's "The Yellow Wall Paper." Although, any reader may find Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Henry S. Whitehead, David H. Keller, Seabury Quinn, Francis Stevens, H.L. Lovecraft and August Derleth just as worthy. Even those most well-acquainted with the genre will be pleasantly surprised with the tales by lesser-known writers, such as Willa Cather's "Consequences" and Gertrude Atherton's "The Striding Place." Editor Straub highlights a Feminist strain with female writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Harriet Prescott Spoofed, Kate Chopin, Madeline Yale Wynne, Alice Brown-to name a few, offering an interesting reassessment of a crucial era in fantastic fiction.
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Black Gate

Fortunately, a perfectly apropos choice landed on my doorstep last month, compliments of the Library of America. Peter Straub's two-volume American Fantastic Tales, subtitled Terror and the Uncanny, is one of those genre-defining collections, a banquet of spooky fall reading that will likely last me months. And just like Thanksgiving, it's unapologetically American in focus.

Globe and Mail

Normally when one uses the phrase "essential reading" in a review, one qualifies it: "Title X is essential reading for people who . . . " There's no such qualification here: American Fantastic Tales is essential reading. Full stop. Every story is rewarding in its own right, but the overall effect of the volumes is staggering. The familiar stories, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wall Paper and Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream stand alongside horror writing from figures not normally known for such writing, including Vladimir Nabokov and Michael Chabon, and a new generation of writers unfamiliar to those whose experience of horror stories ended with their adolescence, including Kelly Link and Caitlin Kiernan.

Kirkus Reviews

Vast two-volume anthology of horror and supernatural fiction, precisely divided along lines drawn by the modern American experience. Editor Straub's first volume gathers tales that express the sense of "instability" that developed from the erosion of the 18th-century faith in reason and essential human goodness, resulting in an implicit consensus of doubt and fear. Standard classic stories from such masters as Poe, Hawthorne, Ambrose Bierce, Henry James and Edith Wharton are inevitably and rightfully displayed. (Wharton's "Afterward" is magnificent.) But many readers will be most intrigued by several truly impressive sleepers. Among the best of these are Harriet Spofford's deliciously ironic "The Moonstone Mass"; Sarah Orne Jewett's understated, dialogue-driven "In Dark New England Days"; Stephen Vincent Benet's stunning re-creation of the traditional folktale "The King of the Cats"; and Henry S. Whitehead's improbably persuasive Haitian voodoo tale, "Passing of a God." Volume Two's contents reflect confused and perturbed reactions to radical changes in people's daily lives and the larger world around them during periods of instability beginning around the time of World War II and extending into the dizzying technological changes of the past quarter-century. A handful of dated or overwrought clunkers (from Tennessee Williams, Anthony Boucher, Stephen King, et al.) aside, this is a valuable selection of excellent, often deeply disturbing stories. The choicest include "Smoke Ghost," Fritz Leiber's brilliant paranoid's-eye view of industrialism run amok; Shirley Jackson's subtle, moving "The Daemon Lover"; Davis Grubb's neatly twisted piece of American Gothic, "Where the Woodbine Twineth";Jeff VanderMeer's nightmarish Korean War story, "The General Who Was Dead"; "Stone Animals," Kelly Link's sublime creation of an eerie alternative reality; and "Family," one of Joyce Carol Oates' best pieces ever. A terrific, must-have collection.