Book Review: Unnatural Creatures

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Say Neil Gaiman decided to put together a bunch of short stories from various authors from various times which all had the theme of an animal which doesn’t quite belong in nature.  You’d want to read that book, right?  Yes, yes you would.  Enter, “Unnatural Creatures”.   As an added benefit, proceeds from the sale of “Unnatural Creatures” will benefit the nonprofit 826DC, whose mission it is to foster creative writing skills in children.  Almost makes me feel guilty that I got my copy from the library.  Almost.

There are sixteen short stories found in this volume.  Contained therein are werewolves, unusual spots, griffins, cocatoucans, phoenixes, and more.  The stories are written by a whole list of authors you probably have never heard of and were first penned from as far back as the late 1800s up to present day.  The high quality of said stories shows that Gaiman went to great lengths to choose the perfect sixteen to go together.  There isn’t a loser in the bunch.

Each story opens with a short couple of paragraphs by Gaiman introducing the author as well as describing what drew him to the story.  It’s a nice touch that often fails when putting compilations together, but not here.  Gaiman is succinct and descriptive, a gift that is hard to come by.

My loan from the library expired and I’m finding it more difficult than it is worth to find a list of the stories on the interwebs so I’ll have to go by memory of some of my favorites.  And sorry, but I’m not going to remember any of the authors.  The one about the unusual spot on the dining room tablecloth actually doesn’t have a name, but a picture for a name.  It’s almost Lovecraftian with its tale of extradimensional intrigue.  Another that stands out is the one about the epicurean club with poor long-term memory searching for a morsel that they haven’t digested yet.  Probably my favorite is “The Griffin and the Minor Canon” which is about a Griffin who longs to see what he looks like and finds his likeness in a statue on the parapets of a church in which the Canon resides.  It is certainly the most complex of the sixteen.  But really, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Even though I did not buy this book, “Unnatural Creatures” is worth buying.  Not only do you get a solid collection of short stories, but you also get to benefit a good cause.  Short stories, to me, are the most difficult literary form to do well so when you find a good collection like “Unnatural Creatures”, you should treasure it.