Imaginary Friends edited by John Marco & Martin H. Greenberg
Fiction/Fantasy (SS); 304 pgs
The title was what first captured my eye. I pulled the book off the shelf, and it did not take me long to add it to my purchases that day. My curiosity got the better of me and I began reading the introduction as I waited in line to check out.
Imaginary friends have touched many of our lives. Perhaps even you had one. They were our sidekicks and sometimes our heroes. They got us into trouble just as much as they kept us out of it. They kept us company and understood what we were going through. They were our best friends and our allies when we needed them most.
John Marco, fantasy author, had considered writing a research paper on imaginary friends for a human development class while in college. Unfortunately, he would soon discover, there was not a lot of research out there available, and so he had to put that idea aside for the time being. Years later he was asked to be a part of putting this little collection of stories together. What an interesting idea, I thought. Childhood fantasies and imaginary friends are topics that fascinate me. Perhaps in part because, like John Marco, I once had an imaginary friend too.
Imaginary Friends is an anthology of short stories by a variety of authors, each story taking the concept of the imaginary friend and weaving it into a fantastical tale—some set in far off worlds and others right here in our own. Anne Bishop’s name is the first that popped off the back cover at me when I initially picked up the book. As a fan of her Black Jewels world, I was anxious to read her contribution to the book. The twelve other authors whose stories you will find among the pages of the collection are Rick Hautala, Jean Rabe, Juliet McKenna, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kristine Britain, Donald J. Bingle, Tim Waggoner, Paul Genesse, Russell Davis, Bill Fawcett, Fiona Patton, and Jim C. Hines.
I jotted notes down for each story as I read, and one concept that repeatedly appeared with nearly every story was a variation of the phrase, “Everything is not always what it appears to be.” Each of the stories in the collection are imaginative and thoughtful. Some are funny while others more serious. There’s the boy and his dragon who slay pirates; a prisoner trapped in a tower who is only able to look out at the world through a reflection in a mirror; a beggar and his dog just looking for their next meal; a young girl with a gift who must endure a difficult trial; a bar bet gone awry; a writer whose lost her way and needs a little help from a friend to get back on the right path; the man who professed his innocence right up until the end; a grieving father’s desperation; a young boy coping with the upheaval in his family; a lonely man’s ramblings and a postal worker caught in his spell; an imaginary friend reunites with his grown child during a tense moment in time; a man whose family is caught up in illusions; and a haunting story about Death and his tie to one boy and his mother.
My favorite of the stories included the first story in the collection, Rick Hautala’s “A Good Day for Dragons.” My initial thought upon finishing the story was what a wonderful bedtime story this would make. It reminded me of my own childhood adventures as I chased down drug dealers and mobsters with my imaginary partner by my side.
I was also quite taken with Anne Bishop’s story, “Stands a God Within the Shadows.” Whenever I read anything by this author, I quickly lose myself in the world she has created and it was no different with this particular story, which, while short, still enthralled me in its spell. A lonely person is trapped in a tower, unable to look out directly on the world outside her window, with only a figure in the shadow for comfort and conversation. The protagonist’s strength and resilience are what especially make this story stand out in an otherwise seemingly hopeless situation.
Paul Genesse’s “Greg and Eli” was a story that touched my heart. It is the story of a young boy who finds his entire life uprooted when his mother and father move to a small town in Nevada after the death of his unborn baby brother. His parents are too wrapped up in their own agony and little Greg finds himself having to face the world outside on his own, including a bunch of bullies.
Another favorite of mine was the story of the young soldier in Iraq who called upon his childhood imaginary friend, Thumper, as gunfire erupted around him in Bill Fawcett’s “The Big Exit.” It was a story of courage and trust. And yes, I did get a little choked up at the end.
The imagination is an amazing thing and Imaginary Friends brings out some of the best of that. Not one story disappointed me.
Rating: (Very Good)
John Marco has generously offered to giveaway three (3) copies of this anthology to three lucky readers! If you would like a chance to win a copy, answer the following question in the comments below:
Did you ever have an imaginary friend?
Be sure and leave your e-mail address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. The deadline to enter will be November 7th 11:59 p.m. (PST).