This might be an unpopular opinion, but I feel it needs to be said. For novels, you certainly need discipline. As a writer, you need to sit down, plot, write, and rewrite for weeks, months, and years (days if you’re like some authors who shall not be named…). Yet, to be a short story writer, above all, you need skill. You need passion and creativity. You have to engage, capture, and subdue your reader in just a few pages. You need to make sure that your reader is absolutely heartbroken by the end of it, or you’ve accomplished nothing. Short story writers are intrinsically magical. Of course, no type of writer is better than the other, but Cursed certainly calls the purpose of novels into question.
Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales, edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane, is a wondrous collection of short stories. Its pages hold words by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Charlie Jane Andrews, M.R. Carey, and Allison Littlewood. The anthology’s premise is a treasure trove of stories about curses and hexes. In one way or another—even if they might not seem like it—they deal with them before, during, and after of curses. How are our lives shaped by hexes that ruin lives or small, evil wishes that cause daily inconveniences? How do we remedy the magic of the day-to-day by merely calling it “unusual” when really, larger-than-life forces are at work?
The book flowed seamlessly and soundlessly. It was a masterpiece in its editorial storytelling. One story precedes its natural debutant, and it was easy to shift from one’s story’s tone to the other’s. The many styles of the various authors found within this anthology complemented each other. It was lovely—and jarring in the best way—to have a story with mostly colloquial language (“Fairy Werewolf vs. Vampire Zombie”) and then change into the reverent prose of (“Haza and Ghani”). The book also cleverly started with a poem and ended with another: this sets the reader’s tone and then slowly, gently released the reader with a curse.
As always, I need to highlight my favorite stories. This book lacked no skill and no spice in any of its stories, but I always find myself drifting towards some of them more than others. This time, I might have loved far too many.
“Troll Bridge” by Neil Gaiman—and I truly do love his style—is a wondrous coming of age story that reflects on the ordinariness of heteronormative men. It has no qualms about stressing how some people will hurt others at the cost of them living their boring, healthy lives. It takes sacrifice to be good, and some would instead allow their soul to wither and prey on those made from the same cloth. It is only when you learn that you will be released.
I seldom find myself reading in complete bewilderment. Jen Williams is soon to be discovered, as she did that and more. Williams’s prose and style are both chilling and haunting. I felt revulsion and fear at her tale, but I could not tear my eyes away from the words. “Listen” appeals to people’s compassion. It is essential to do good by those nearest and farthest from you. The dead carry secrets and long-held grudges. It is only a matter of time before they are exposed, and you find yourself torn apart. I honestly cannot stress how fantastic and terrifying this one is.
“Henry and the Snakewood Box” by M.R. Carey and “Fairy Werewolf vs. Vampire Zombie” by Charlie Jane Anders are both similar in style. While Carey’s story has a more profound moral meaning—our actions have unintended consequences but through sacrifice, we might be able to remedy them—, Anders’s story reads like something written for production as a feature-length film. It’s exactly the type of story this book needs to lighten its palate. I enjoyed the bizarre nature of the story, the external narrator, and the hilarious dialogue. It’s one of the best texts I’ve read this year. Carey’s story is clever, and I’ve always loved clever writing. You’ll be in for a confusing ride while you figure this one out, but when you do… good luck!
“Again” by Tim Lebbon is the one true love story of this century. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and will leave you in tears. What do you do when the love of your life is cursed to appear in random time and space? What do you do when she may appear 30 years before you are born or 40 after you are dead? Death is inevitable for Jodi, and Eveline has been the one constant ray of love and life.
“Merrie Dancers” by Allison Littlewood demonstrates that Littlewood is a natural-born storyteller. I was immensely captivated by Littlewood’s writing and could vividly see the events happening before me. I felt the wind on my cheek, the sheep wool blanket curling my neck, and I could see the bright red shoes. It’s a story about desire… It’s a story about life as we know it.
Honorable mentions are “Haza and Ghani” by Lilith Saintcrow, and “Hated” by Christopher Fowler. Whether intentional or not, these two authors have the names of powerful witches. I digress, both these stories are absolutely fantastic. Saintcrow manages to give me the feel of a novel without all the filler, and Fowler is a clever writer. “Hated” has the most clever ending out of all the stories in this anthology, and I relished it. “Skin” by James Brogden was the only terrible short story from the bunch. I did not care for it; it’s problematic and misogynistic, but it’s only one out of 18.