Review: The Doll Collection

Posted: November 17, 2016 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Ellen Datlow (Ed), Horror, Short Fiction

Dolls can be creepy. We’ve been telling horror stories about dolls for ages. Usually, it’s only through the darkened glass of adulthood though that these constructions of plastic, wood, cloth, and porcelain become anything more than the facimilies of infantile life they represent. That’s why evil dolls and the innocent youngsters that tote them around so often find themselves brought together. Occasionally though, a story, or a doll, comes along that lacks these boundaries. Just ask my toddler-aged niece about the sunken-eyed “Scary Doll” that haunts the hallways of my own house. These are the kinds of stories that I expected going into this collection, based solely on the very creepy front cover of the book. And there were definitely some of those that I found within.

THE DOLL COLLECTION (Amazon) is a collection of seventeen short stories collected by Ellen Datlow, filled mostly with authors with which I wasn’t familiar. But then again, I’m not a huge horror reader. I enjoy it, for sure, every now and again, but I wouldn’t by any means call myself an afficionado. The realm of authors spans one or two with relatively few publication credits to their name, up to those that have dozens and dozens under their belt. With such a wide array of authors, I was expecting the typical showing of a wide array of ratings for the stories as well. Thus, I was pretty surprised with just how solid the showing was. Here’s my breakdown:

  • Loved: 2
  • Liked: 8
  • Mediocre: 3
  • Liked and Hated: 1
  • Didn’t Like: 2
  • Hated: 1

There was a pretty wide array of story types across the board. Stories with dolls as the main characters, with dolls used as trauma-inflicting devices. Ventriloquist dummies, and really who doesn’t like a good haunted vent-doll story? Those for which dolls were the central focus, and others that only had very tenuous connections to dolls at all. In fact, if I have one over-arching criticism about the collection, it would be the large number of stories (six) that I didn’t really feel had a solid reason for being there. For the most part, all of the stories were well-written, but this is supposed to be a collection of stories about “dolls” after all.

Some of my favorites:

“Daniel’s Theory About Dolls” by Stephen Graham Jones: This is exactly the kind of story that I expected to find. A man with a very dysfunctional family has a brother that has lost his soul. Their mother had a miscarriage when they were young and afterward they dug the backyard grave up to find a doll. This screws up his brother something fierce, and the man finds out just how badly when they are older. Creepy, atmospheric, and really good.

DOLL COLLECTION has a wide array of story types for which we expected a wide array of ratings; color us surprised with how absolutely brillant they all were

“Skin and Bone” by Tim Lebbon: Dude and his buddy are doing a trek across Antarctica. He finds some corpses off in an ice cave and make some less-than-intelligent choices, as most people in horror stories are wont to do. Super creepy and great writing, but this is one of those that I really didn’t feel solidly belonged here.

“There is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold” by Seannan McGuire: Woman is a human-seeming doll, created by her father the doll-master. She regularly empties her emotions by ritual into dolls of her own making to keep herself from cracking up, literally. Her expulsion of emotion allows her to create a “key” into the “Kingdom of the Cold”, a place that isn’t really explored in detail. I would have liked to see this one a little longer with some more exploration of the several ideas presented, but it was really well-written, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

A solid collection of stories about the kinds of dolls you just don’t give to the kids. Ellen Datlow has put together quite a few of these short-story collections, so many of them really good, and this is not one to miss.

  • Recommended Age: 18+
  • Language: Kind of a mixed bag, but there's some strong language in a lot of them
  • Violence: Mostly low-level stuff, but one story got pretty grisly
  • Sex: One story had some implied child abuse

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