And lo, the deed has been done. The beast vanquished. The dragon slain. The old anthology read. I skipped last week, because …*cough*mutter*mumble*… but finished the book this week as planned. So here we are, the last three stories.
“An Invitation to the Hunt” by George Hitchcock
The problem with this story is that it’s not Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” It’s an okay story, but it reminds you enough of the Jackson story that you realize her absence from the collection is one of the worst marks against the entire book.
This story goes like this: striving suburbanite thinks he has made it into the big leagues when he gets an invitation to the annual hunt held by all the town’s swank upper crust types. At first, he’s reluctant to go because he wants nothing to do with those people, but his friends, spouse, and neighbors all prevail upon him to accept. So, he finally does and for a bit everyone’s happy. Even his boss, who’s going to be at the hunt, stops by his desk to chat with him. All’s great, right up until the early hours before the hunt when two game keepers break into his house, drag him from his bed, and force him to run, as far off in the distance the hounds catch his scent and begin to howl.
Don’t get me wrong. “Invitation to the Hunt” is a strong, visceral read, but it’s too structurally unsound. If you think about it for two seconds it falls apart completely. The size of the conspiracy required to keep the hunt’s nature secret is too large. Better to mire it in the weird familiarity of ritual, like in Jackson’s “The Lottery”, or shrink the conspiracy to the size of a family like in the film Ready or Not.
Verdict: Okay, but not Shirley Jackson.
“From the ‘American Notebooks’” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
This is a collection of writing prompts taken from Hawthorne’s journals. They make for interesting reading and have been used by other writers to provide the kernel for their own works. Poe certainly swiped from here. “The Notebooks” themselves I hope to check out at some point.
“The Dream” by O. Henry
I did not know O. Henry was serving a jail sentence when he started seriously getting published. In my mind I had him filed in the cornball corner, but I will be the first to admit to being wrong on that score. A glance at his Wikipedia page paints a portrait of someone more at home in an episode of The Knick. Also, dead from alcoholism at forty-six… like holy hells. How much do you have to drink to die from it at age forty-six?
Anyway, “The Dream” is O. Henry’s last story. It was found unfinished on his desk when he died and his editor wrote a meta-style ending and published it. The story is about a guy on Death Row awaiting his execution and the relationships he has with those around him. It’s a bit Runyonesque in its dialect and characterization, which is not a problem for me. Then it ends, right in the middle as the guy’s entering the chamber, with the editor pulling back to summarize the ending in broad strokes that O. Henry had not yet finished writing. This invitation to finish the story, along with the brief list of Hawthorne ideas that preceded it, are kind of the perfect finale to the collection. It’s like the stories have been a courtship and now at the book’s end you’re invited to take a turn and tell a tale.
That’s it. The strangeness and mystery are yours now.
This has been a year. Next month is a different one. I will continue to blog like a dinosaur. I suffer under the misguided notion that this gives structure to my life. This was a fun ride and I really enjoyed the collection. I’ll list my favorite ten stories in a patreon exclusive post. Next year’s book club will start in January 2021 with the recent Women of Weird Tales collection from Valancourt.
Thank you for reading.