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McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories Paperback – November 16, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With this varied collection of enchanting though not always astonishing tales, Chabon (who also edited McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales) aims for an anthology full of "genre bending and stylistic play." There's quite a lineup of writers taking a stab at "genre" fiction here: many expected (Margaret Atwood, Stephen King), but a few surprises as well, and a newcomer or two. Atwood offers a fantastical tale of a human "lusus naturae" (freak of nature) who suffers from a nameless disease that results in yellow eyes, red fingernails and fangs—how does such a creature fit into a family? Jonathan Lethem's charming "Vivian Relf," which concerns two strangers who seem familiar to each other and who continue to cross each others' paths, is a kind of love story, but there are also tales creepy (Jason Roberts's "7C") and strange (China Miéville's "Reports of Certain Events in London"). Stephen King's "Lisey and the Madman" is full of engaging detail and feeling. While a couple of stories fail to reach the high-water mark, this collection will offer readers plenty of pleasure and perhaps even a sense of doing good (an endnote says that "this book benefits 826 Valencia," the San Francisco writing lab founded by Dave Eggers and Co.).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (November 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400078741
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078745
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #897,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on December 8, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In his excellent introduction to "McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories", Michael Chabon decries what one might call the "genre-fication" of modern literature. He quite rightly points out that there is romance in the fantastic, science fiction in the literary, mystery in romance, etc., etc. It is therefore the stated ambition of this collection to gather authors who would otherwise not be lined up side by side, in an effort to blur these distinctions of genre, and introduce the reader to new styles and authors. I am glad to report that the result is spectacularly successful. While there is no connection between the stories, the uniformly excellent writing and passion displayed by the contributors results in a collection of diverse entries that somehow works as a whole.

The collection begins with Margaret Atwood's "Lusus Naturae" which immediately captures the spirit of the book with a romantic/gothic/science fiction entry. An ideal first piece, it sets the tone for the subsequent entries. Next is the remarkable David Mitchell with "What You Do Not Know You Want"; a noir-ish mystery with a supernatural twist. Readers of his recent "Cloud Atlas" will particularly enjoy this entry as it definitely echoes the themes and settings of that work. Moreover, like Atwood's entry, this blurring of genres adds to the cohesiveness of the work as a whole.

Jonathan Lethem's "Vivian Relf" carries things forward with an enigmatic romance written in a literary style. It is a classic short story, and a good change of pace which keeps the reader on their toes. Next is "Minnow" by Ayelet Waldman which probably had more of an impact on me than any other stories.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Royce E. Buehler on January 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
There must be millions of us who share Michael Chabon's enjoyment of both literary fiction and genre fiction, and count among our greatest pleasures works that live on the border between. But it's not that easy to summon up that borderland at will, and in this grab bag of poplit, dallying with the genres of fantasy, thriller, and horror, there are as many pieces that fizzle as there are pieces that pop.

I agree with the other reviewers that the finest of the lot is from the hitherto unkown Jason Roberts, whose "7C" ushers in the end of the world with the intensity of delirium, the clarity of a theorem, and a chilling tendresse all its own. By itself, it's worth the price of entry. We will, I hope, be hearing much more from Roberts.

No one experiments with the Gothic form more freely or successfully than Joyce Carol Oates, and her Poe tribute "The Fabled Lighthouse at Vina del Mar", with its claustrophobic Galapogan landscape of mental decay, is another high point. Daniel Handler's "Delmonico" is another tribute, bringing Spider Robinson's Callahan's Saloon out of SF into the world of the hardboiled private eye, a journey which only improves its genial flavor.

Other standouts are "Zeroville", an eerie trip into the metaphysic of film; Jonathan Lethem's deceptively straightforward and naturalistic antiromance "Vivian Relf"; and China Mieville's tale of a secret society of urban naturalists, "Reports of Certain Events in London", a marked departure from his usual style that suits the story like a glove.

Most of the big marquee names here (Poppy Z. Brite, Stephen King, and Margaret Atwood) turn in solid journeyman offerings, but not ones that will linger in your memory. A few of the stories - "Minnow", "The Child", "The Scheme of Things" - are derivative one-finger exercises that may not make it into your short term memory.

If you're prepared to sift the gems from the chert, you'll be well rewarded by this collection.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By gac1003 on December 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
This new collection of stories, edited by Michael Chabon, aims to "reinvigorate the stay-up-all-night, edge-of-the-seat, fingernail-biting, page-turning tradition" (taken from the book's back cover) of literary short fiction. For me, that was about half right. Half the stories had me on the edge of my seat and didn't let up for a moment, such as "Lusus Naturae" by Margaret Atwood, "The Fabled Light-house at Viña del Mar" by Joyce Carol Oates, and the astonishing "7C" by Jason Roberts (probably the best of the collection). The other half seemed a bit unclear and left me wondering what I had just read.

The collection includes some already well-known authors - Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Peter Straub - and introduces some welcome newcomers (to me, anyway) - Ayelet Waldman, Jason Roberts, Roddy Doyle. As a whole, this collection was hit and miss; however, the hits make it worth reading.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nostalgianaut on May 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
While McSweeney's last offering of this sort didn't really seem to accomplish what it set out to do: the genre stories were by genre writers and the "literary" writers didn't seem to offer anything different from what they usually write(exception, Rick Moody's Albertine Notes), this time a definite effort seems to have been made to fit their work into the genres they were aiming for in the first collection.

The work by Margaret Atwood and Jason Roberts was the best, while Heidi Julavitz sets her story up and flubs with a predictable ending that made me want to throw the book across the room. I think that some of those people who would like to separate themselves as "literary" artists have the very mistaken notion that genre writing must be predictable, either that, or Julavitz simply couldn't come up with a better ending, which would prove the anti post-modernists correct in their assumption that today's literary fiction is intended to obfuscate because the writers don't have a handle on the basics of story telling. Julavitz's ending didn't work. It was like one of those hilarious jump-cuts in the "Funkenstein" skits on Mad TV and it disappointed because it started out so well.

David Mitchell's What You Do Not Know You Want, also had a quickie ending that didn't quite work, but still managed to raise hackles, while Steve Erickson's Zeroville was superb. At any rate, this collection is definitely more enjoyable than the first and I hope that McSweeney's continues to put these out periodically.
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