CategoryHill Joe

Stories: Conclusion

Having reached the end of Stories (click here for the index of my posts), it’s time for a few remarks in closing. I’d characterise this as a solid anthology — a broad range of material, and nothing particularly bad (Gene Wolfe’s is probably the weakest story, and even that has a certain amount of interest). However, more stories fall into the ‘quite good’ bracket ( as opposed to the ‘good’ bracket) than I’d have liked, and this is what makes the anthology solid rather than spectacular for me.

What, then, are the best stories in Stories? Roddy Doyle and Jodi Picoult do interesting things with fantasy, and demonstrate how fruitful the results can be when ‘mainstream’ writers try their hand at the fantastic. Michael Swanwick, Jeffrey Ford, and Joe Hill contribute perhaps the best-told tales; and Kat Howard’s piece is a strong debut.

Finally, how far does the anthology meet its stated aim: to collect stories that encourage readers to ask ‘and then what happened’? Quite well, I think — for all the criticisms I might make of some 0f these stories, they’re rarely dull. I’m wary of saying that any anthology has ‘something for everyone’ — but I think Stories comes close.

Joe Hill, ‘The Devil on the Staircase’ (2010)

And so, we reach the climax of the anthology, and this is a great way in which to end it. Hill tells of a boy who lives in Italy (towards, I’d surmise, the end of the 19th century), in a mountain village accessible only by a network of staircases cut into the cliffs. The boy has eyes for his cousin, Lithodora, and one day kills her lover in the heat of the moment. He then encounters a devil in the form of a child, who gives him a tin bird that sings a beautiful song when told lies.

Hill’s telling has the flow of a folktale; the rhythm of his prose is emphasised by the downward slopes in which the text is arranged on the page. Add to this a neat metaphorical undercurrent (the tin bird comes to represent the spread of propaganda), and you have a fine story indeed.

Rating: ****

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Joe Hill’s website

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