Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Short Story Wednesday

I started to review this story of Megan's myself and then decided to let Kristopher's review stand in for mine. The story is very strong on atmosphere. You are filled with dread reading it.

Vintage Hollywood and Megan Abbott is like Chocolate with Strawberries – a perfect pairing. Megan has already shown readers that she can write damn fine novels (such as Dare Me, The Fever, and Bury Me Deep) and she has written one of my favorite overlooked short stories, “My Heart is Either Broken.” Now with “The Little Men,” she has contributed to The Mysterious Bookshop’s great series of Bibliomysteries.

“The Little Men” is set in 1950’s Hollywood. It is the story of Penny Smith, a failed actress who is now making a living by doing makeup on the movie lots of yesteryear. Struggling to make ends meet, when Penny finds an affordable bungalow for rent in Canyon Arms, she thinks her prayers have been answered.

Sure, the landlady – Mrs. Stahl – is a bit odd and maybe more that a bit nosy, but beggars can’t be choosers. It’s only when Penny makes friends with the eccentric gay couple next door in Bungalow Number Five that she starts to learn more about the history of her new abode.

It seems that Lawrence, one of the previous tenets committed suicide in her cherished bungalow. Larry was a bookseller who shared his love of literature with Mrs. Stahl. Is it possible there was more to that relationship? An inscription in one of Mrs. Stahl’s treasured books might just hold the answer.

All of this becomes more complicated when Penny finds out that Larry was seeing the exact same visions of tiny little men scurrying across the bungalow floor in the wee hours of the night that she has started to see since moving into Bungalow Number Four. Is Penny following Larry’s path to madness?

Megan Abbott keeps the suspense high in this short story. Readers will run through the gamut of possibilities before what is really happening – and what really happened – is finally revealed. You can always count of Megan Abbott to tell a satisfying story featuring strong female characters and “The Little Men” is just further proof. This one is a fine new addition to the Bibliomysteries line of books.


More about Otto Penzler's bibliomysteries   Briefly, every Christmas he publishes one in a small book form.

 THE LITTLE MEN won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story in 2016.   

Todd Mason

Kevin Tipple


Richard Robinson

George Kelley 

Jerry House 


Jeff Meyerson said...

I like those Bibliomysteries, at least the ones I've read. Looks like there are more of them than I realized. This one doesn't seem familiar, so I will look for it. I particularly got a kick out of Laura Lippman's "The Book Thing" because it was about a real place and I've been there (with George and a couple of other friends). Every book in the store was FREE. Really.

I read Patricia Highsmith's ELEVEN, which I think I mentioned last week. Some good stories and some very creepy ones, particularly two about snails. And that brings me to the next Highsmith collection, THE ANIMAL-LOVER'S BOOK OF BEASTLY MURDER, which is even stranger. See, in this one, every story is written from the perspective of an animal! There is the camel, being whipped by an awful master. There is the truffle-hunting pig who knows his own mind. There is the dog in Midtown Manhattan. Very strange, as I said.

The other collection I finished was Q. Patrick, HUNT IN THE DARK (a Crippen & Landru Lost Classics collection). This has two short stories, two novelets and two novellas, including one each featuring series characters - a World War II spy story involving Peter and Iris Duluth, and a pre-war New England story featuring Dr. Hugh Westlake (whose tales were published as by Jonathan Stagge). More interesting than either, though, is a noirish tale right out of the Cornell Woolrich playbook, "This Way Out," which will remind you of several post-WWII films about returning soldiers like THE BLUE DAHLIA. Steve Glenn's first stop on his return from the Pacific is to beat up playboy Tony Dort, the man who stole his wife Celia (then dropped her). But then Steve has second thoughts and goes back to make sure Tony is alright, only to find him dead, with his body moved. And there is reason to think that just maybe Celia did it. Pretty good collection, especially this 45 page story.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Have you seen PIG, Jeff, with Nicholas Cage. Pretty good about a truffle hunting pig. Also someone told me THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS is good. Now that they are not as popular as a decade ago, I wonder if their use is declining.

Jeff Meyerson said...

No, not yet. I do want to.

Correction: I did read Megan's story, on February 14, 2019.

Rick Robinson said...

If I can help it, I don’t read things that induce dread, though I’m sure Megan’s story is beautifully written.

Jeff, that animal one sounds cool.

Todd Mason said...

As I recall, the problem with truffle-hunting pigs is that they want to, and often all, eat the truffles they find. Truffle hounds apparently less capable (less motivated?), but also less likely to consume the quarry.

I'll have one up shortly, if the creek doesn't rise.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Todd, that was the absolute issue in the Highsmith pig story. He wanted those truffles and didn't care who got in his way.

Todd Mason said...

I might well've picked up that datum from reading the Highsmith back when it and I were new...(Typed "all" and meant "will" above!).

Todd Mason said...

Mine finally up and reasonably legible:

"Dog Stories" by Francine Prose, SPECIAL REPORT: FICTION November 1990-January 1991: "Animals" (the issue's theme) edited by Keith Bellows: Short Story Wednesdays

Thanks, as always!

TracyK said...

I have not read any Bibliomysteries, but I have some on the Kindle and the two volumes that have been published. I think Megan's story is in one of the volumes and I will give it a try.

Todd Mason said...

I'll need to find a copy of this story...I've finally just seen the most recent film THE INVISIBLE MAN, starring Elizabeth Moss, and it's aggressively dumb, while playing the Is she crazy or Isn't she? card for about half the runtime, and then even further trying to concretize the metaphor of an invisible man/relentless controlling and abusive man-"friend"/life partner...if you concretize a metaphor, you have to have it make some real-world sense, something which this film chooses to fail at at every convenience. Or have a good reason for not doing so.

I suspect Megan did a Much better job with her fantasticated element, or is it, here...