Salon Fantastique is a collection of fifteen original fantasy stories, written by some of the greats in today's fantasy field and edited by esteemed editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. It has an eclectic mix of stories, though most of them take place on our own planet rather than some other fantasy setting. The styles are varied, and the authors have written some very good stuff. The stories seem to fit the title of the anthology (which is always a good thing); all of them seem a bit more sophisticated than your average fantasy story. I could almost picture these stories being passed among patrons of literary salons everywhere. On the other hand, the sophistication is a strike against some of the stories, as I couldn't make much sense of them. That may be a personal failing, but it did affect my enjoyment of the book.
The best stories in the book come from some of the more familiar names (at least to me), with "Femaville" by Paul Di Filippo being my favorite. In this story, a tsunami hits the East Coast of the United States (it's not detailed where, exactly), and the survivors are herded into camps until they either voluntarily re-settle or the government forces them out. Parrish Hedges is a cop with a problem; during the disaster, he tried to stop the looting, but the stress put him on edge and he ended up accidentally shooting a twelve-year-old boy with a water pistol. Now he's one of the refugees. He meets up with a young woman and her daughter and becomes the woman's lover. The daughter, along with most of the other kids in the camp, is creating a city out of mud, dirt, and whatever else they can put together. While the adults look upon this as children at play, being resilient through the worst tragedies, there may be something more to all of this. Will Parrish be able to put his past behind him to take the opportunity presented to him by this girl? This is an excellent story featuring a wonderful relationship between Parrish and the young girl. He's not of much use right now, so he becomes the guardian of the children as they work diligently, and he begins to believe that there may be something to what they're doing. None of the characterization is that deep (except for Parrish's, of course), but we get enough that none of the events in the story feel forced. The ending is actually a little unpredictable, and not the happiest.
Another strong story is Jeffrey Ford's "The Night Whiskey." In the small town of Gatchfield grows something called a "deathberry," a fruit so potent that if you drink wine made from it, you will go off extremely drunk and end up meeting with folks who have already died. You won't wake up until somebody comes and pokes you out of a tree (which is where you inevitably end up) and snaps a twig right by your ear. Because of the potency, the wine is drunk only once a year, and only by a few people (different every year) selected by the mayor. The narrator is a new trainee of the harvester, and this is his first Harvest. But one of the drunks has done more than just converse with the dead: he's brought one back. This could be trouble. What they have to do will affect everybody involved for the rest of their lives. This is a fascinating concept with wonderful Ford prose (he wrote the Nebula-winning "The Empire of Ice Cream"). It's also quiet but extremely emotional, especially once the problem presents itself. It's the perfect length, as he has to set up the entire "Drunk Harvest" concept before getting the reader involved in the action itself.
Finally, there is "Concealment Shoes" by Marley Youmans. A family moves into a house and the two youngest kids (Beatrice and James) are exploring it when they discover some old shoes hidden in the chimney. They take them out, but that may not have been the best idea, especially after they meet an old woman down by the lake who tells them the story of the house. One night they are awakened by strange sounds, and they have to put things right before the spirits win. Youmans writes with an easy flow to her words, making the children intelligent but not overly adult (a mistake too many authors make when they have kids as protagonists). They're inquisitive, like to play and run around a lot, but they're also well-read and they think things through. Youmans gives the idea of a haunted house a fantastic twist, and I really enjoyed reading every word of it.
The rest of the stories are fairly good, though again some of them I had trouble getting through. I hesitate to name them when it could very well be just my thought processes not connecting with what the author is saying. I will say that the most confusing of the bunch is "Down the Wall" by Greer Gilman. Here Gilman uses a form of language that made it even harder for me to penetrate her point, adding a double whammy to the whole thing. I can't even say whether it's well-written or not; the language was quite opaque. I've never been a fan of extreme dialects in writing, and this is a big offender in that category.
Overall, though, Salon Fantastique is a quality collection of fantasy stories. Most of them have at least some redeeming characteristics, and there is definitely some strong stuff in there. You also can't go wrong with stories by Delia Sherman and Lucius Shepard or the interesting weirdness of Lavie Tidhar's "My Travels with Al-Qaeda" (a sort of love story about a man and a woman who unfortunately keep ending up in hot spots in the Middle East at just the wrong times). Give this one a try, and maybe you can fathom some of the stories that I couldn't.