This is one of the books that got me through last week. (The other is Ellen Forney's graphic novel Marbles,
which I haven't had the guts to review yet because what do I say? Thank you for saving my life when you didn't even know me?)
Anyway. I happened to have this collection from the library, and I opened it up and dove in. It was such a relief to read something that wasn't work-related, or even Goodreads-related. It wasn't going to push me into wild-eyed research mode. It was just a good book and I was just there to remember what reading for pure pleasure felt like.
(insert "aaaaaahhhhhhh" emoticon, gif, or internet meme here)
I needed that so much.
I needed to put everything else aside and read a superb collection of short stories.
My family kept a tactful, quiet distance as I absorbed this book. I don't know how else to describe it. I settled at our tiny kitchen table with a mug of tea and no particular place to go and lost myself in story after story.
I remembered what it was like not to care what the clock said and not to know anything more about a book other than that it had been given to me as a gift and I was there to accept it.
I don't think I've experienced such blissful reading since I was ten years old and every day was lit by the warm glow of the Narnia books I'd received for my birthday.
But that's more a review of my state of mind and less a guide for anyone considering reading this collection. Fortunately, this book's subtitle -- Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense
-- tell you most of what you need to hear in that respect. At least if you know what "domestic suspense" is, and I admit it's not a genre I know much about. I just liked the title and the fact that there was a Shirley Jackson story, even if it was one I'd already read.
So far as I can tell, a domestic suspense story is a psychological thriller that doesn't feature a professional detective to sort things out. Civilians – mostly but not all women, at least in this collection – are on their own when it comes to figuring out what the scary hell is going on.
In a few of the stories, the protagonist (and the reader, of course) has reason to wonder if anything scary really happened at all. "The Splintered Monday" by Charlotte Armstrong, for instance, features an elderly woman whose suspicions are raised by nothing more than a few fond family members being slightly kinder than usual. This woman doesn't know what
exactly she suspects. She just feels sure that something
must be up.
In Joyce Harrington's "The Purple Shroud," on the other hand, reader and protagonist know exactly
what's going on. A long-suffering wife is patient witness yet again to her husband's yearly infidelity at the artist's colony they visit every summer. We know what he's
doing, and we know with whom. But what oh what is his wife
All of the stories are well-written. Some are humorous, some ominous; a few manage to be both. One featured a touch of the supernatural that I found unnecessary and disappointing, since the mundane twist toward the end was quite disturbing enough. One hid Chekhov's gun behind an actual gun and offered a surprise ending so wonderfully gruesome I cheered out loud, thrilled to be duped.
I quoted several times in my updates from the British writer Celia Fremlin's "A Case of Maximum Need," the last story in the collection and arguably the most startling and powerful piece in the bunch. I'm shocked that Fremlin is not better known – in America, at least, her books are pretty much out of print. I ordered used copies of a few of her novels, and can't wait for them to arrive. Fremlin's brilliantly mordant wit is right up there with Muriel Spark's – why isn't she better known?
Anyway. I think this book is an outstanding collection no matter what your frame of mind – and I recommend it to anyone who likes their winter-cozy reading with a side of spooky.