“The Doll Collection” edited by Ellen Datlow

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“The Doll Collection” edited by Ellen DatlowThe Doll Collection: Seventeen Brand-New Tales of Dolls by Ellen Datlow, Stephen Gallagher, Miranda Siemienowicz, Mary Robinette Kowal, Richard Bowes, Genevieve Valentine, Richard Kadrey, Veronica Schanoes, John Langan, Jeffrey Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, Gemma Files, Pat Cadigan, Lucy Sussex, Tim Lebbon, Seanan McGuire, Carrie Vaughn, Stephen Graham Jones
Published: March 10th 2015 by Tor Books
Genres: Horror/Gothic
Pages: 351
Format: Hardcover
Source: the publisher
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Dolls are a staple in horror media, and for good reason.  They’re similar enough to us that we can see ourselves in them, and yet alien enough to be unnerving.  The Doll Collection, edited by anthologist Ellen Datlow, presents seventeen short stories, each of which feature dolls.  But the dolls in this collection are not themselves so horrifying, rather, they serve as a mirror to reflect the darkest parts of human nature.

I’m a much slower reader with short stories, as I don’t have the same continued immersion as with longer fiction.  I read this collection slowly over the course of several months, savoring a story here and there, and then pondering what I’d read.

Many of the short stories in The Doll Collection were a bit too gruesome for my taste, but others were haunting and thought-provoking.  Here are some brief thoughts about and reactions to each of the short stories in this compilation:

Skin and Bone by Tim Lebbon

An Antarctic expedition fades away into the snow, but with dolls.

Heroes and Villains by Stephen Gallagher

The doll in this story is actually a ventriloquist dummy.

The Doll-Master by Joyce Carol Oates

The Doll-Master is one of the most disturbing short stories in The Doll Collection.  It starts out innocently enough as a young boy describes his experiences playing with dolls, but as the story progresses, we realize that he should not be.  *shudders*

Gaze by Gemma Files

Some artifacts are more than they seem…

In Case of Zebras by Pat Cadigan

A teenager working in a hospital encounters a patient with a doll, and realizes that the world isn’t quite as simple as it seems.

There Is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold by Seanan McGuire

There Is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold was one of the more memorable stories in this volume.  The narrator is an alien-like creature who makes dolls to keep her overflowing emotions from cracking her into pieces.  Her father is dying, and she’s trying to hang onto him, but she needs to take her own place in the circle of life.  A haunting tale of grief, death, and the cycle of creation.

Goodness and Kindness by Carrie Vaughn

A reporter looking for his big break falls into a depression, and has an encounter with Kewpie dolls.

Daniel’s Theory About Dolls by Stephen Graham Jones

Daniel’s Theory About Dolls begins in childhood, when Daniel’s mother had a miscarriage.  Daniel goes to dig up the body, but finds a doll instead.  Rather disturbing.

After and Back Before by Miranda Siemienowicz

A dystopian and post-apocalyptic tale about two children who leave their commune.  Very creepy.

Doctor Faustus by Mary Robinette Kowal

A stage production of The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus goes horribly wrong as tragedy strikes.

Doll Court by Richard Bowes

If you do not treat dolls properly, they will come after you.  It’s a matter of justice, really.

Visit Lovely Cornwall on the Western Railway Line by Genevieve Valentine

A girl with a doll rides on a train, and we see brief vignettes of the travelers she encounters along her way.  This one started off promisingly, but then later felt incomplete.

Ambitious Boys Like You by Richard Kadrey

This was one another of the most gruesome stories in the volume.  Two young boys break into a haunted house, only to find that it is more demented than they expected.  Even though the protagonists are little shits, I couldn’t wish their fate upon them.

Miss Sibyl-Cassandra by Lucy Sussex

Miss Sibyl-Cassandra is a historical tale about a fortune doll purchased from a gypsy.  It follows the lives of each of the characters whose fortunes had been told to see whether each fortune was true.  I particularly enjoyed the ending.

The Permanent Collection by Veronica Schanoes

The Permanent Collection is easily my favorite short story in this collection.  It’s set in a doll hospital, and the store’s owner is pretty much Sid from Toy Story.  A pristine Shirley Temple doll narrates the tale of how he got his comeuppance.  Haunting and beautiful.

Homemade Monsters by John Langan

Homemade Monsters is a charming tall tale about a homemade Godzilla doll and revenge against childhood bullies.

Word Doll by Jeffery Ford

While The Permanent Collection was my favorite story in this book, Word Doll was a close second.  It’s set in a rural town that reminds me a bit of my own childhood.  An old woman runs a hotel dedicated to Word Dolls, a tradition designed to help children labor in the fields.  While initially benevolent, something goes wrong, resulting in a grim local legend.

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