Introduction

In my reading and writing of short fiction, I am probably most stimulated by the uncanny. Which is not to say that which is merely weird. A lot of art is weird, yet only some art is uncanny. What does it mean then, exactly, this word from the German unheimlich (unhomely, but not quite that either)? It’s notoriously hard to define, fleeting, fugitive. Freud, in his famous essay, ultimately resorted to describing it through a chain of examples, which reminds me of a hoary slogan to do with a genre of electronic music, appropriately named House, for the uncanny is bound with the domestic, but also notoriously hard to define: “House is a feeling”. The rapper Pusha T’s lyric “If you know, you know” also comes to mind. For the uncanny, although difficult to define, is unmistakeable in its effect.

The short story form is particularly suited to the uncanny, I think, because it is not an easy effect to sustain over a full book. In my own reading, only Kafka, in his novels, and Lewis Carroll (in Through the Looking Glass) manage to sustain the feeling at great length. It is more likely to happen in flashes, in window frames. And that is what short stories are. Flashes in window frames.

The stories in my personal anthology are loosely connected by uncanniness. In some of them, it runs right through. In others, it flickers here or there. I don’t think I’ve ever really felt a story that wasn’t at least a little bit troubling. I guess I find that – being troubled – is important.

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