(Book Review) From the Stacks: October Dreams

By David Nilsen

octoberOctober Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween was published in 2000 by the appropriately named Cemetery Dance Publications, and edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish. The massive book aims to collect the best of all available writing on this haunted holiday, both fiction and nonfiction, past and present. With nearly sixty entries, a couple of which are closer to novelettes, it’s an ambitious project. Does it succeed? Well, it has a lot of writing about Halloween, and a lot of that writing is good. If you’re picking up a nearly-700-page book on this subject, I assume that’s what you’re after.

The book contains an equal mix of fiction and nonfiction, the latter mostly made up of short essays by popular horror authors written around the theme “My Favorite Halloween Memory.” These were my favorite aspect of this collection, and gave a fun, brief look back at the childhoods of many popular writers, as well as giving a glimpse into a freer, wilder era for Halloween traditions. The town this journal calls home does its town-wide trick-or-treating on the Sunday afternoon before Halloween, in broad daylight, which misses the whole point of the thing by a wide margin and irritates me year after year. These essays looking back at Halloweens past were exciting and made me nostalgic for a time before paranoia became a marker of good parenting. The book also contains a few longer essays, including one recounting the history of the Halloween holiday, which was highly informative, and retrospective essays looking at the best of Halloween-themed film and fiction.

I could have dealt with the entire book of these memories and essays, because the fiction portion of October Dreams is considerably more unbalanced. Classics by Ray Bradbury share space with reprehensible stuff by F. Paul Wilson and others. There are definitely some treats in the bunch, such as Caitlan R. Kiernan’s atmospheric A Redress for Andromeda,” Lewis Shiner’s clever “The Circle,” and Tim Lebbon’s horrifying “Pay the Ghost,” but many of the stories in these pages are competent but forgettable.

October Dreams offers some fun reading once the evenings get crisp, the leaves start falling, and stores and porches fill with frights, as long as you have the patience to weed through the lesser work to find the gems. If you do, this collection contains more than a few treats.

October Dreams is available now at GPL.

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