The Very Best of Charles de Lint by Charles de Lint, San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2010.
The latest Charles de Lint offering is a collection of 29 short stories spanning the past quarter of a century of his writing career. His previous short story collections have generally been at least loosely thematic. This volume is something of a departure from that approach. Faced with the challenge from his publisher to come up with a collection under the heading ‘The Very Best of . . .’, de Lint apparently turned to his readers, or at least those of them who follow him on FaceBook and MySpace, and asked them to nominate their favourite stories. With a few additions to reflect all the styles he has written in, this volume is the result.
The lack of a clear theme makes the volume very difficult to summarize. He gives us a handful of (mostly early) stories that are set in a conventional pre-modern, agrarian fantasy land, but the majority have a modern urban setting. And, most of the latter are set in or around Newford, de Lint’s mythical American city where magic is an ever-present if unacknowledged reality.
I did notice one omission from this attempt to give a comprehensive survey of his short story writing. For some reason he chose not to include one of his contributions to Terri Windling’s Bordertown series. Since they are not easy to find these days and de Lint’s contributions to the series were some of the stronger stories in the series, that is a pity.
The volume is a showcase of the many virtues of his writing: strong dialogue (he is one of relatively few male fantasy authors who is able to produce really believable female dialogue), characterization and description; a knack for combining lyricism with clarity of language; an ability to expose the magical hidden within the interstices of everyday reality; characters who are searching for something more than the hedonistic pleasures of modern materialism but with no guarantee that they will find what they are looking for, certainly no guarantee that they will find happiness (e.g. ‘Timeskip’, ‘In the Pines’).
The collection also serves to showcase the diversity of his output. It includes stories that could be read as bedtime stories for children (e.g. ‘Pixel Pixies’, ‘Mr Truepenny’s Book Emporium and Gallery’) and stories that deal sensitively with adult themes (e.g. his treatment of child abuse in ‘In the House of my Enemy’). There is humour and horror; loss and discovery (usually self-discovery).
And his choice of concluding story is interesting. ‘The Fields Beyond the Fields’ is by no means the strongest story in the book. In many ways, it seems a strange way to end the collection: a rather downbeat, late-night monologue by a writer who is one of the recurring characters of the Newford stories. But it contains a fascinating meditation on the art of writing. There is more truth here than in many books on writing. And perhaps that does make it a fitting way to end the collection.
In The Very Best of Charles de Lint we have a very useful one-volume compilation of his short story writing. It is essential reading for anyone who is new to de Lint or has previously read only his novels.