When reading an anthology my first most basic criteria is, how good are the stories, does the anthology have a theme, how well do the stories fit? If the anthology is edited by a writer, however, I look for something else as well; how the stories reflect the taste and style of the author. I have read some that were great, and some that were not, but it’s always interesting to see an author reflected in their choices. Judging fromGhostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Audrey Niffenegger clearly knows what she is doing. Her choice of stories are spot-on, and vary a great deal, from established names to the relatively unknown, and they date from Poe, M.R. James and Rudyard Kipling, all the way up to Kelly Link and Neil Gaiman. Her introductions are concise, and her illustrations are a revelation, invoking classic artists like Edward Gorey and Gustave Klimt.
When it comes to the individual stories, I liked some better than others, but that is to be expected. I may face a scolding for saying this, but Poe’s The Black Cat was the only story I didn’t care for. I think Mr. Poe is generally overrated, and his tale added little to this collection, but reading The Mezzotint, by M.R. James, was wonderful. It’s not on the par with his classic “Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come To You My Lad”, but it still shows why he is a master of the form. They by Rudyard Kipling is a true classic, but is rather scarce on chills. Two offerings by Saki, and Edith Wharton’s Pomegranate Seed are very effective, and certainly show why their authors are justly renowned. Ms. Niffenegger’s contribution, Secret Life with Cats is full of black humor and horror, while Playmates, by A.M. Burrage is full of shadowy spectres. My two favorite stories were The Pink House by Rebecca Curtis, which was full of subtle creepiness, and Click-Clack the Rattlebag, a surgically precise piece of horror fiction by Neil Gaiman. This wonderful collection is brought to an appropriate end with August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains, a beautiful and sad story by the master, Ray Bradbury, about a haunted house of the future that updates Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” All in all Ms. Niffenegger showed that her editing skills, and her illustration skills, are every bit as good as her writing ones. She a rare triple-threat, and I look forward to her next work, whatever the medium.