that only twenty-one of goodreads' many users have added this book makes me really sad. this is a collection of seven stories and a novella by charles g. finney, now remembered largely for his fantastic novel, The Circus of Dr. Lao, championed by literary luminaries like the late ray bradbury, and dennis etchison. but the ghosts of manacle is a curio, a strange little quirk of literature, and deserves its due.
all the stories take place in and around a fictitious little arizona town called manacle, which seems to be ruled by a dark nexus of energy; this is illustrated in the story "the iowan's curse", when a neighbour who began his life in iowa meets a couple, newly arrived in manacle and explains how dangerous the town can be.
some of the stories are a little precious, even hokey -- the dialogue in the "the iowan's curse" made me blench at times but they're all tightly-written tales, charming and fun to read. standouts include "the life and death of a western gladiator" told from the perspective of a snake, "the gila shrikes" about a biological experiment gone wrong (or right, depending on your point of view). i also really liked the dark turns that the last two stories took. my least favourite was "the black retriever" which i'd previous encountered in a dubiously titled twilight zone anthology. it was technically brilliant, but rather dull.
the standout story for me in this collection is the last, the novella called "the end of the rainbow". now, the only other reviewer of this book on goodreads goes so far as to say readers should skip it, but i beg to differ. i loved that story: it was like a charles portis lost dutch mine mutating with the great film comedy it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world. it's not exactly a politically correct work, but it's an honest one, and wise even as it is innately zany and ridiculous. i enjoyed the hell out of it, and highly recommend it as *the* reason to read the ghosts of manacle.
a favourite passage from "the end of the rainbow":
"Yes, I proclaim it now: it is good to cast aside the fripperies of civilization and culture and sink back into the primordial slime when the drums are beating and the fiddles bleating and the feet shuffling and the breasts shaking and the mad wind blowing and the seeds of war are being sown. Yes! It is good to strip oneself of hypocrisy and have a dance and a howl. Man, I felt young then, as young as the first man who stood upon his two feet for the first time and looked around for something to kill. The millions of years it had taken to make me what I was melted away as mud melts under a warm rain, and I felt as one suddenly reborn into the youth of the world when the swamps still covered the globe and the miasma veiled the mountain crags. I was a beast, a great blond beast of prey, and forgotten were my ulcers, my glasses, my truss, and my dentures. I called for madder music and for stronger wine; and the great war dance of the Potenuses roared and thundered on."