October 26, 2009

Rabid Reads for Halloween: "October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween"

Title: October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween
Editors: Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish
Publisher: New American Library (trade paperback), a division of Penguin Group (2002); first published by Cemetery Dance (hardcover)
Genre: Horror/Short Story Anthology
Pages: 648
ISBN 0-451-45895-8

I read this last year between Halloween and Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed it from cover to cover. I spied that haunting cover on the top shelf of a used-book shop last fall and had to have it.

If the theme of Halloween wasn't enough, including authors' essays of "My Favorite Halloween Memory," the list of contributing authors is stellar. Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, Jack Ketchum, Ed Gorman, Ramsey Campbell, Poppy Z. Brite, and the king of October, Ray Bradbury are but a few names to be found inside this anthology's pages.

I am unsure how well received other seasonal anthologies are, but there's no denying the appeal of one set during the spookiest holiday of them all. Horror is a genre to be enjoyed every day of the year, yet Halloween seems to be that time when all bets are off and the whole world lets down their guard to relish the scarier side of things.

The quality of each story ranges from good to great. Chizmar and Morrish did a fantastic job in choosing and organizing a varied and high-quality assortment of tales that should delight any reader, whether they're a fan of Allhallows Eve or not.

A few of my personal favorites from this batch include Poppy Z. Brite's "Lantern Marsh," Richard Laymon's "Boo," John Shirley's "Mask Game," F. Paul Wilson's "Buckets," and of course Ray Bradbury's "Heavyset." The stories hit every note on the scale, from whimsical to macabre to downright chilling. And it's topped off towards the end with a novella length work by Peter Straub called "Pork Pie Hat."

I couldn't help revisiting a few of these stories as we get closer and closer to the big day. It's stories like these that really help to put a person in the mood for masks and candy and hijinx. And if the short stories aren't enough, the essays on Halloween memories only sweeten the deal, reminding me of how much I relished that one night of the year as a child.

I think anyone with a love and appreciation for ghosts and goblins, and trick-or-treat, and carved pumpkins will get a kick out of his anthology. Whether young or old, whether on Allhallows Eve or Easter Sunday, October Dreams is a treasure for anyone any day.

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