cover image Compulsory Games

Compulsory Games

Robert Aickman. New York Review Books, $17.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-68137-189-4

Aickman (1914–1981) was a master of the “strange story” whose nearly unclassifiable output relies neither on ghosts nor creaking castles. Each story in this collection is a small masterpiece of unease and psychological perplexity. In the title story, a mysterious woman gradually seduces and supplants both a husband and wife; in “Hand in Glove” a holiday in the country seems to cross over to a netherworld of carnivorous cows; and in “No Time Is Passing,” a man discovers a river behind his house that leads to an island seemingly outside of time. Other stories feature ancient wooden cabins, reclusive women of mystery, and “dreams... hard to recall in their particulars.” In “Residents Only,” a neglected graveyard becomes walled off from the living by its population of living dead. “Wood” follows a man entering into a strange marriage with the daughter of a sinister carpenter. “Le Miroir” introduces a young woman who falls out of step with her own reflection. Insidious, haunting, and brilliant, Aickman’s stories present dreamlike, inexplicable realities in prose both strangely sensual and entirely disarming, making this collection a treasure for fans of Poe, Kafka, and Lovecraft. (May)