Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
English writer John Collier’s (1901-1980) most famous short story is “Wet Saturday.” I remember reading this story in tenth grade, which was, of course, the first I had heard of John Collier. “Wet Saturday” is for John Collier what “The Lottery” is for Shirley Jackson and “Metamorphosis” for Franz Kafka. “Wet Saturday” is a sly story about a murder, a crime of passion from a person who is ordinary passionless, and the efforts on the part of the murderer’s father to find somebody to pin the murder on. It’s such a famous and well-known story because it’s simple to understand, a lot of the action is revealed in dialogue, and it packs a memorable punch at the end.
John Collier’s short story collection, Fancies and Goodnights, which was first published in 1951, is a collection of fifty short stories (including “Wet Saturday”) with Collier’s signature wit and dark, ironic humor. Most of these stories are not grounded in reality but in flights of fancy. There are demons from hell, an orchid that absorbs people into it, a man who spends an evening with his wife after she has just died, a man obsessed with a store mannequin, a doctor who murders his wife, a strange talking bird that reveals a secret to its owner that the owner would have been better off not to know, a man who pretends to be twins so he can marry two woman, a flea that takes Hollywood by storm, and on and on. As Ray Bradbury says in the introduction, “Anything can happen in a story by John Collier and it usually does.”
Of the fifty stories in Fancies and Goodnights, a few are about fifteen or twenty pages, but most of them are much shorter and can be read in one sitting or in a matter of minutes. It’s interesting to note that several of John Collier’s stories were adapted for TV in the 1950s and ‘60s, most notably for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
John Collier considered himself a “third-rate writer,” but he was clearly a master of the short story form. Students of writing can learn a lot from his stories.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp