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Michael Chabon, Editor: McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury Of Thrilling Tales


McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury Of Thrilling Tales

Author: Michael Chabon, Editor
Publisher: Vintage

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Few of the short stories in McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury Of Thrilling Tales are particularly thrilling; like so much of the material under the McSweeney's name, the anthology's title and theme are closer to arch postmodern referentialism than to demonstrable truth. But the collection itself is a thrill, given its slate of contributors and overall quality. As the author who turned comic-book tropes and references into a Pulitzer-winning literary novel (The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay), Michael Chabon is probably the best possible editor for a collection of all-new stories putatively channeling old-fashioned two-fisted genre fiction. But in spite of the mummies, zombies, science-fiction gadgets, and hard-bitten detectives scattered throughout, Tales is still a fairly subdued and intellectualized collection. Virtually all of its 20 entries have more bite and color than the "contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story" Chabon scorns in his introduction, but virtually none would sit comfortably in the pulp magazines Thrilling Tales apes in its style, from the cover art (an authentic 1940 magazine cover) to the interior illustrations to the artfully fervid teaser blurbs summarizing each story. Possibly the strongest case in point is Stephen King's contribution, an absorbing but bloodless and resolution-free excerpt from one of his upcoming Dark Tower novels. Chabon, too, contributes what feels like a small chunk of a tale that will eventually become thrilling, while Neil Gaiman, Dave Eggers, Harlan Ellison, Carol Emshwiller, Elmore Leonard, and Michael Crichton all turn in satisfying stories that dabble in genre trappings, but still operate abstractly, more in the head than the heart or the spine. A few of Chabon's Thrilling Tales at least come by their genre claims unreservedly. While Nick Hornby's "Otherwise Pandemonium" and Chris Offutt's "Chuck's Bucket" fit the usual McSweeney's literary pattern to a T, complete with twisty self-referentialism and high-concept cleverness, they're both effective and immediate pieces of authentic science fiction; meanwhile, Dan Chaon's chilling "The Bees" would fit well into any horror collection, and Michael Moorcock's "The Case Of The Nazi Canary" wraps Sherlock Holmes mysteries, historical fiction, and alternate-world fantasy into a single pastiche. But Kelly Link's "Catskin" best typifies what most of Thrilling Tales isn't. A fascinating fairy tale that finds its own complex internal logic and spins out a lively, visceral, unpredictable plot, "Catskin" trades on the unrestricted, rules-free creativity that characterizes the best speculative fiction. Thrilling Tales is an exceptionally absorbing anthology with an impressive roster of authors, but most of its stories are only cautiously testing the waters of the uninhibited pulp-fiction mentality. The few exceptions dive into genre headfirst, and don't come up for air until their final stunning paragraphs.