Usually calling a collection of short stories “tales” or anything other than “stories” is a bad sign for me. It means the author is “doing” something, and too often, that’s not a good thing.
Michael Cunningham wrote The Hours. It won a bunch of prizes. He also wrote a few other books that I have generally liked. Specimen Days is a weird kind of triptych novel set against New York with connections to Walt Whitman and terrorism and cyborgs. And I really liked it.
I did not like this very much. Most the stories feel like a weird combination of Once Upon a Time….but like it was written by Paul Auster. It’s a little too affected. So you will have a story where Jack and Beanstalk is told as if Jack is a kind of noveau riche vulgarian. Or Snow White is a dialog ala Nicholson Baker’s Vox.
The best of the stories are the ones told in second person, because in order to accomplish these stories there has to be some thought put into emotional content and resonance. In addition, the best story (and more or less only good one) is the Rumpelstiltskin story called “Little Man.” It’s good because it doesn’t try to recast the story in a contemporary magicless world. Instead, it simply puts a narrative spin on the story, delves into psychology, and then tells a story.
Throughout the collection, it’s like the writer is casually screaming “I’M WRITING” and he types out his stories. And at the end he yells “STORIES!”