Black Water II

Edited by Alberto Manguel

Lester, Orpen & Dennys

929 pages

Black Water II is the second mesmerizing collection of fantastic short stories compiled by anthology-meister Alberto Manguel. Like its predecessor, it is an excellent and remarkably diverse presentation of the spooky products of nightmareish imaginations.

Manguel describes fantastic literature as “the impossible seeping into the possible.” Indeed, fantastic stories unfold not in fantasy worlds, but in what the reader recognizes as reality. This semblance of normalcy is the key to why these stories are so chilling.

The realistic framework lulls the reader into a false sense of familiarity and security. Thus the reader is most vulnerable to the horror caused by the invasion of the safe and comfortable world by something that defies logic and belief.

The quality and variety of stories in this compilation is exceptional. Excellent tales hail from a plethora of cultures and countries, written by a wide range of authors including George Bernard Shaw, Kenzaburo Oe, Margaret Atwood, Yehuda Amichai, Arthur C. Clarke, Chen Xuanyou, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Jerome Bixby’s nightmarish “It’s a Good Life” imagines a world in the complete control of a petulant and naïve child. Grace Amundson spins an enchanting tale of a child’s faith in magic in “The Child Who Believed.” Bernard Malamud uses an imaginative twist to explore intolerance and selfishness in the wry and poignant “The Jewbird.” William Samson’s deceptively romantic “A Woman Seldom Found” saves its spine-tingling punch for the last paragraph.

Naturally not every one of the sixty-five stories in this collection is a priceless gem. Several are not only less than gripping tales, they also lack any real sense on the fantastic. However, the majority of the stories maintain a surprisingly high level of magical web-spinning.

Black Water II is the great book for intellectuals who enjoy getting spooked but would rather get caught having sex with a rotten rutabaga than be seen with a Stephen King novel in their hands. Alternatively, it’s the great book for literary philistines (such as myself), who should try to get their chills reading something less blunt than the trite pulp they so enjoy.