Pushing the Limits: Paula Guran’s Nightmares, Dreamscapes, and Good Taste

Just finished the 2011 lineup of “The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror” edited by Paula Guran.  It seems to me there is a great proliferation of horror anthologies out on the shelves these days, something I’m rather glad to see, and this collection strikes me as one of the finest I’ve found.  There’s a boat-load of stories here, a hefty 544 pages of dark dreams and waking nightmares.  So if you’re gonna buy it, crawl under the covers and settle in.

Most anthologies are a mix.  A few balls belted right outta the park jumbled between a few yawning swings grounded out and a couple of complete whiffers.  Guran obviously looked long and hard, trekking into every dark corner she could find, because the compilation here is stunningly good and remarkably consistent.

What I like most, though, is Guran’s subtle sense of the boundaries of horror.  She is not a hardcore nut who demands plenty of blood and bile (although, hey, nothing wrong with that).  Nor is she so hoighty-toighty that she fills her anthology with nothing but Henry James pastiche (like we need another 544 page doorstop).  Guran explores the borderlands of horror and dark fantasy, pushing the limits of the genre and proving that while plenty of high-brow critics may continue to hold their nose at the mention of the word “horror,” there is still plenty of juice left in modern dark-fantastic.  Plenty to move us, excite us, fill us with wonder and, yes, make us shudder.

So, kudos to Paula Guran.  One can only hope this series continues for a long, long time.

As for my personal favorites, here were some that delighted me:

Tragic Life Stories by Steve Duffy

The Broadsword by Laird Barron

The Stars Are Falling by Joe R. Lansdale (also to be found in The Best American Mystery Stories 2011)

The Moon Will Look Strange by Lynda E. Rucker

Are You Trying to Tell Me This is Heaven by Sarah Langan

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