The audience for "Real Unreal," I suspect, are those fans of writers whose gift for the fantastic has not precluded mainstream notice: writers like Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link, Michael Chabon (who provides a vigorous front-cover blurb, calling the book "an important -- no, a crucial -- map of the richness and strangeness and startling range of the modern American short story"). Which is to say, a better way of marketing "Real Unreal: Best American Fantasy Volume 3" might have been to scrap the defensiveness, switch the title to "Excellent Recent Short Fiction" and leave it at that.
Brockmeier has discriminating taste, and "Real Unreal" is a satisfying mix of styles and sensibilities, featuring fiction drawn from such diverse sources as Fairy Tale Review, Tin House and the Oxford American.
Entertaining long works such as "The Last Unicorn" novelist Peter S. Beagle's warm, precisely dialogued "Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel" and John Kessel's joke-transcending Austen-meets-Frankenstein pastiche "Pride and Prometheus" alternate with brief but potent pieces. Jeffrey Ford's "Daltharee" turns a city-in-a-bottle experiment into a metaphor for storytelling (I raved about it in this space in 2008, after its appearance in "The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy"). Martin Cozza's even shorter "For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing" is a three-paragraph parable that begins "The president came over for lunch" and ends with the commander-in-chief defacing the narrator's family pictures. (Published in the July 2008 issue of the literary journal Pindeldyboz, it's a cryptic nightmare of Bush-as-invader.)
14 March 2010
Excerpt from Ed Park's Astral Weeks column: