By Ed Park
December 6, 2009
2Chase the Ballard with the late Joan Aiken's "The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories" "The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories" (Big Mouth Press: 320 pp., $20). The wit is irrepressible, the invention wild: A baby is transformed into an elephant, which Harriet and Mark Armitage then need to stuff into a decommissioned phone booth. (Don't ask -- just read.) Secondary characters do their inimitable turns, then disappear, or get transformed into animals. (Even animals can't escape morphing into other animals: A neighboring sorceress turns Walrus, the Armitage cat, into a wolf.) Such delicious lightness, paradoxically, is the fiction's raison d'être.
3Who belongs in "American Fantastic Tales""American Fantastic Tales"? This two-volume anthology, edited by Peter Straub (Library of America: 1,500 pp., $70), seems to contain everyone, from the usual suspects (Poe, Lovecraft, Stephen King) and their latter-day acolytes (Michael Chabon, Kelly Link), to canonical literary figures you might not expect: Edith Wharton, John Cheever, Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are plenty of offerings from triple-named obscurities (Madeleine Yale Wynne, Ralph Adams Cram), and once-popular writers (humorist John Kendrick Bangs, whose story about a story is clever and haunting). The most potent tale is arguably "Mr. Lupescu," a 1945 five-pager by the influential editor and critic Anthony Boucher. (Boucher offered Philip K. Dick important early encouragement and was a correspondent of Harry Stephen Keeler's.) A friend reported that he heard his wife gasp twice when she read it. I know exactly which two moments were to blame.
4 Lev Grossman's "The Magicians""The Magicians" (Viking: 416 pp., $26.95) manages a literary trick: It's both an enchantingly written fantasy and a moving deconstruction of enchantingly realized fantasies. I have a theory about the ending that is wrong (I asked Grossman about it when I interviewed him for this newspaper), but my fondness for this reading proves the strength of his spell.
5In Victor LaValle's "Big Machine""Big Machine" (Spiegel & Grau: 384 pp., $25), one odd encounter leads to another with a phantasmal logic laced with humor, the whole thing building up to a monumental dream work. This unruly and entertaining novel finds the surreal or supernatural (soul-sucking cats, swamp spirits) from Vermont to the fictional Garland (read: Oakland), Calif., with blood and revelations in Florida, shocking bits of business in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and in an apartment complex in Queens.
Park's novel, "Personal Days," was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Award. He writes the monthly Astral Weeks column at latimes.com/books.
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