REVIEW: “The Oval Portrait” by Edgar Allen Poe

Review of Edgar Allen Poe, “The Oval Portrait”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 127-130 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story is one of the reasons I was so excited to review this anthology — for despite having been an English lit major many many years ago, the only Poe I’ve ever read is “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” (if you can call listening to the Crüxshadows’ version of it “reading”).

Poe’s tale of an oval vignette portrait of a young woman is gothic in the extreme — an injured hero, a forced entry into an abandoned building, old and gloomy and grand, references to Mrs. Radcliffe — and it was a little bit weird to read a story that wasn’t so much aping or mimicing or paying homage to these literary structures as being a part of what the homage is paid to in the first place.

Two other things struck me about the story: I love Poe’s use of hyphens, his punctuation style is very much after my own heart; and on p. 129 there were a few things where I wasn’t sure if they were errors in language or intentional. When Poe’s narrator reads a description of the portrait in a small volume he has found upon his bedpillow, the same sentence describing the woman is repeated. A few sentences later, the unusual spelling “pourtray” (for “portray”) is found — not implausible for the mid-19th century, but it’s the only atypical spelling in the story. I could look past both of these as being quirks of Poe’s writing, but then a few sentences later there is a genuine typo, (“be” for “he”), which served to make me unsure about the legitimacy of the two earlier issues. It’s unfortunate: For it then made me question the reliability of this edition of the story.

There is a note at the end of the story indicating that this is a shortened version of a longer story originally published in 1842; this shortened version was revised to remove “the suggestion of a drug-induced hallucination” (p. 130). Given that, and my uncertainty about the story as it is published in this 2018 edition, if nothing else I have now been stirred to go find the original 1842 edition and read that!

(Originally published in Broadway Journal, 1845.)

REVIEW: “The Stories We Tell to Sleep At Night” by Anna Yeatts

Review of Anna Yeatts, “The Stories We Tell to Sleep At Night”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 199-211 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Contains oblique references to sexual assault.

John Clive Owens has been offered the chance of a journalist’s lifetime. The divorce of Frank and Cecile Cooper is “as high-profile as they come in Atlanta’s social circle” (p. 199) — not just because of the divorce but because two years into litigation, Cecile disappeared. So when Owens gets a letter purporting to be from her, ready to tell her story, he cannot say no.

He cannot say no when he arrives in the middle of nowhere and Cecile takes away all his tech, his cell phone, even his glasses.

She knows too much. Against Owens, that knowledge is her power over him; but against her ex-husband, no knowledge would be enough to free her from his power. The story she relates is a horrible one of deceit, manipulation, assault, gaslighting, and outright lies — a story all the more horrible because every woman reading Cecile recount her experience either has or knows someone who has had similar experiences.

But Cecile’s story is not the one that Owens needs to tell…

REVIEW: “The Inheritance” by Bethann Ferrero

Review of Bethann Ferrero, “The Inheritance”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 267-274 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

When Glen inherits a house from his reclusive uncle Butch, and finds a rat-infested abandoned wreck left to moulder, it’s clear that we’re in for a classic horror story. There’s really no other way things can go than badly.

I’m not a huge fan or horror, and this story is certainly not one I’d ordinarily enjoy. Nevertheless — like fine Scotch that is well-made but not to my taste — I could appreciate how well Ferrero took all the typical elements of a horror story and wove them together into something where nothing is new or unexpected, and yet the story is still overwhelmingly successful in what it sets out to do. If you like horror — or prefer your Scotch aged in port to bring out the sweetness — you’ll like this story.

REVIEW: “The Lost” by Doug Engstrom

Review of Doug Engstrom, “The Lost”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 229-238 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is one of the shorter stories in the collection, which is a plus in my book because it’s also 1st-person-present-tense — a combination I find tougher than some to read. Wait — that makes it sound like I’m saying “thank goodness it was short because then I was put out of my misery sooner”, which isn’t at all what I meant. Rather, that when this combination works for me, it tends to work best in shorter rather than longer pieces.

Another reason that makes the POV and tense work here for me is the way in which this otherwise solidly SF story adapts frameworks from fairy tales. In fairy tales, one rarely gets characters, only caricatures. The Beautiful Younger Daughter, the Clever Youngest Son, the Wicked Stepmother, all defined by their labels. In Engstrom’s story, the characters too are identified with their labels, but the labels become names: Engineer, Captain, Ship, Pilot, no definite article, defining their roles and defined by them.

No one is more so defined than Agent, who is the only one of the crew who has “allowed the imperative of privacy to be connected to taboo…stood in the Hall at the Agent’s Academy and seen the shrine dedicated to the Agents who died rather than violate the integrity of the mail” (p. 237). Agent chose this life, chose to allow himself to be defined as Agent, and through his choice this label contains untold power — and an untellable choice.

REVIEW: “Fishing Village of the Damned” by George R. Galuschak

Review of George R. Galuschak, “Fishing Village of the Damned”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 251-266 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching SFF TV from the 90s on, it’s that things never go well for the Chosen One — and it doesn’t go any better for Astraea in this story, on assignment with Fred the Burning Skeleton, Sadako the evil spirit, and Dave. It’s supposed to be a charity mission, rescue the provincial Spanish fishing village from Big-Dick Howie, but Astraea — none of them — expected to find a village that didn’t want to be rescued.

This was a light comedy of errors, quick to read and amusing.

REVIEW: “Deleted Scences” by Chris Cornell

Review of Chris Cornell, “Deleted Scenes”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 73-85 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

There are many ways in which a place can become abandoned — there can be a specific reason, a conscious decision, a particular action; or it can merely the slow ebbing away of any reason, decision, or action that one might have or take to go there. The town of Shetlerville has been abandoned both by choice and by inaction, and this illustrates the central theme of the story, how our choices affect our futures.

I really enjoyed this story-within-a-story-within-a-story, a story that balances upon the precipice between romance and horror. It is only the deleted scenes that determine which it is.

REVIEW: “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas” by M. R. James

Review of M. R. James, “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 179-197 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The story opens with a long paragraph of Latin which — I’ll admit — I spent far too long translating before moving on to the next paragraph and laughing when the antiquary reading the book the text is from comments that he still needs to translate the text, and does so in the next paragraph. (Unfortunately, modern spellcheckers tend to choke when it comes to Latin, as I know all to well from my own academic research, which is why, I suspect, the typo in the first line wasn’t caught in editing or proofreading.) And, oh, dear reader, the story has informative footnotes (five of them!), and those who’ve been with SFFReviews from the start know how much I love an informative footnote. All this to say: This is a story basically set up to appeal to me. What appealed even more was when I flipped to the end and read the author’s bio: “Though still well-regarded for his work as a medievalist, he is best known as one of the preeminent voices in modern Gothic horror.” A fellow medievalist who specialises in speculative fiction? How have I not heard of James before? This is one of the things that I love about the anthology: It has introduced me not only to contemporary authors but also historic ones, ones where my chances of otherwise stumbling across them are significantly reduced.

(Originally published in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, 1904).