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  • Famous ghost stories by Bennett Cerf

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    Edition: Modern Library

    Date of issue: 1956

    Book Title: Famous ghost stories

    The author of the book: Bennett Cerf

    Page views: 4870

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Long-time Random House editor Bennett Cerf had impeccable literary taste, which stood him in good stead as an anthology editor. This collection of 19th and early 20th-century macabre stories isn't as extensive as the one assembled in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (which I've reviewed earlier here on Goodreads), but the quality of the selections is fully as good; indeed, this serves as an excellent introduction to some of the genre's classic stories and writers. Some tales here are better than others, but none of them are without merit. The tone of most of them is serious and fear-evoking --though there are a few exceptions.Of course, the causes of scary goings-on here are not always supernatural in character; "The Damned Thing," Bierce suggests, is a natural creature whose color the human eye can't detect, while the narrator of "The Haunted and the Haunters" insists that the events he's observing have a natural cause. Probably William Fryer Harvey's "August Heat" is best interpreted as an example of subconscious psychic pre-cognition (of a very unpleasant sort), while the nature of the uncanny menace in "The Willows" isn't explained --and it's unexplained quality is part of its horror. (Algernon Blackwood is an overrated writer, in my opinion, but the latter story is one of his better ones.) And one "ghost" story turns out not to involve the returning dead at all.The rest of the stories are undeniably supernatural, however, though not all are actually ghost stories; a cursed talisman (in "The Monkey's Paw") and a pagan god make their appearances as well. My personal favorite here is "The Return of Andrew Bentley," by August Derleth and Mark Schorer. (I'd seen a TV adaptation of this as a Thriller episode when I was a kid, and had always remembered it as one of the scariest --and best!-- shows of that series; but I didn't know, until I read this, that it was taken from a written story!) Some of the other outstanding selections are ones I've mentioned in reviews of other collections; but two that haven't been noted are Dinesen's "The Supper at Elsinore," set in 19th-century Denmark, a masterful example of her [her real name was Karen Blixen] layered prose and psychological analysis, and Middleton's "On the Brighton Road." Bottom line: highly recommended!

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