I should note right away that this book isn’t just Stories for Late at Night. It’s an anthology, part of a series of anthologies, and this one’s called Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories for Late at Night. (Others I read included Stories That Scared Even Me, Stories Not for the Nervous and Stories to be Read With the Lights On.) When I was around twelve or in my early teens, I devoured these anthologies, and when I found one I hadn’t read at a rummage sale last week, I snapped it up.
I was surprised to find how good — and how bad — it was. I wasn’t expecting to find authors like Ray Bradbury here (his story “The Whole Town is Sleeping” might easily have been the creepiest story in the collection), or M.R. James’s widely-anthologized “The Ash-Tree,” or Evelyn Waugh’s wonderful “The Man Who Liked Dickens.” Other authors I’d never heard of were also excellent: Henry Slesar’s “A Cry From the Penthouse” looks like a tight little thriller that gave Stephen King a good idea one time. But others were terrible. “Back There in the Grass” was both racist and sexist, and left a bad taste in my mouth, whereas “The Mugging” was just banal and very 1950s.
I used to love short stories. I read collections all the time, gobbling them up one after another. I can see why — bang, bang, you’re dead! Quick conclusions, a shiver down the spine, and you’re on to the next quick fix. I liked to terrify myself with scary ones (I still remember one called “The Janissaries of Emilion” that gave me nightmares) and try to figure out the detective ones. And although now I don’t read them nearly as often, I can still give them some love. Short-form fiction is a real art. Can the author make you care, engage your mind, in fewer words? Most of the greats have tried. Do you have any favorite short stories to recommend (for late at night or otherwise)?