Cinderella’s mental state is fixed somewhere between empty pain and smoldering rage. She holds two embers, one in each palm, and coaxes them to grow.
In Prescott’s collection of biting, dark fairy tales the reader never knows what darkness awaits. At 58 pages it’s a condensed escape into strange, dark tales. As the author plays with classic fairy tales, the characters are much more feral and the perfect blend of beautiful and dangerous. From a starving mermaid to a burning girl, these short tales are for the grown ups. Gretel sacrifices and the witches she meets are nothing like the witch trying to fatten children up in other versions. Maybe, just maybe some of the ‘evil’ women within conjure have their own rhyme and reason. They are short and not so sweet, easily read in one sitting. Just what are curses, really? What if you don’t want to be the giver of kisses, or would rather be eaten by bugs than be some man’s play-thing, king or not?
A mention has to be made about the cover too, it’s a beauty.
Hungry Lizard Press
Jenny was divorced with two kids. She had many theories about relationships, most of which came from the Oprah Network that she watched on small monitors at the dental office while she cleaned teeth. “I couldn’t tell you his love language, but I’d guess it’s not words of affirmation. Does he buy you gifts?”
Love, all we think we know and all we guess at, the insecurities, regrets, longings. Love as friendships, physical love, broken love, rough love, love as a haven- Marian Crotty has written stories about love in all it’s faces, ugly, beautiful, tortured- you name it. “Crazy For You” was fantastic, girls on the verge of sexual awakening, the dawning of awareness of their effect on grown men (welcome or not), witness to the ugly truth of love before they’ve even scratched the surface of their sexuality, while spying on a beautiful neighbor’s sexual exploits. In “A New Life” the tragedy of loss consuming a woman, her husband’s seeming ease with getting over it, moving on. Love spent, broken, and bled dry- terrified of her marriage ending at any moment, instead moving to Abu Dhabi and discovering betrayal. Some characters are fledglings, others battered veterans of love leaving abuse, recovering from loss, but each are trying to find something solid to anchor them. Sometimes the reader will laugh at their characters, other times feel their crushing defeat. There are so many stories about love, not all of them happy and safe. Some take whatever they can get and others discard the garbage they never should have let in! An insightful collection!
Publication Date: October 15, 2017
University of Iowa Press
John Simmons Short Fiction Award
“The passage connecting the wings of the hospital had long ago collapsed, so we signaled each other with candles, this brief joy at catching the blurred, lit shapes of other people’s faces over the rubble.”
This collection of stories is like sorrowful stones you will carry in your gut. It is beautiful and tragic and every rotten and fresh emotion lurking between. Different countries, after World War II, in a sanatorium high up in the mountains, at inns or train stations, each of the characters are stooped with grief. A woman working factories with nothing, with only coins and a tight small space to sleep, remembering the care she gave her dying father. Thankful for that small solitary space, when used to sharing cramped quarters with strangers. Too many hands on her, comfort in her father’s knife tight in her grip. Remembering the river she swam in, a lurking danger, a chemical plant, finding it again long after her youth. Violence, empty hands, wounds- these are not lives of privilege.
In Milner Field an immigrant father shares a sad, terrible story from his past that drives his son to try and find the missing friend from long ago. In Still A Fire, Mikel sifts through rubble that was once city blocks and wonders “What wouldn’t he do?” There is so much hunger in the tales, emotional and physical. The characters are all from many walks of life, similar in not just their suffering but their longing. I walked away thinking about how each of our lives are like solitary planets, some violent, some cold and empty, others bursting with life, filled with love. People wake each morning, some with everything arranged as it’s always been others with everything that anchored them obliterated. In this wide world of ours, so many lives a spinning fury, alien realities we will never know. How the heart breaks with all the suffering and yet how it clings to hope.
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Simon & Schuster
..she insisted nobody ever won: “Nobody, Sam. Remember that. Above all else, remember that when the fairyland dream smoke clears, women like us, like you and me, we always, every single solitary time, wake up elsewhere. And that other life we wanted so badly? The one back there? It’s nothing more than a mirage, the simple-sad story of our botched and misguided lives.”
The writing in this collection of stories is wonderful, the characters are raw, some stuck in their hopeless lives and old enough to know it’s not going to get better, others are scratching to escape households where their parents are miserable with the struggle of staying afloat, some still altered after being burned by love physically, bottom dwellers and those just ‘knocking around’. The children are just as perceptive and believable as the grown ups, maybe a little criminal but for good purposes.
Young boys ‘speak with bigger words ‘ than their mother’s loser boyfriends, those ‘stand ins’ they’re stuck with until the real father’s might possibly return, women remember their vanishing youth and wonder at the turns life takes-this is full of human reflection. Some mother’s look for and clip miracles, while her child laughs behind her back. A fourteen year old boy finds in his mother’s friend a mermaid like soul as she shares an intimate moment with him on the water. People are let down, so many try but just can’t be good, just can’t shake the misery induced by a life that isn’t turning out right. Some homes are alive with quiet violence. “I hated how every conversation took on the urgency of a hurricane or tornado drill, and all I really wanted was to get as far away from the dangers of that house as quickly as I could.” There are big moments and small moments we carry with us. The reader climbs inside so many character’s minds that they are dizzy with emotions: their hatreds, loves, regrets, hopes -all of it. Heavy stuff.
This collection is from the Made In Michigan Series, set in Michigan. The author is very perceptive, the characters are birthed fully in his imagination but feel like real people. Like all of us, in spite of their struggles they still cling to hope, and their fictional lives live parallel to our own in a strange manner. I have to read his other books, not every writer can capture the essence of people in sentences.
Wayne University Press
“She looked like an alien. (But then again, I was an alien, too; that was the box I had to check on every form. Did aliens have unalienable rights? Were we entitled to liberty and justice?)”
Let’s get this out of the way, there are a couple of stories at the start of the collection that some readers may find disturbing, particularly the sexual encounters between Lucy and Francine and the horrible treatment of Frangie. In fact, some people will stop reading there. But not all the stories carry on in that vein and it would be a shame to miss out of Zhang’s solid writing. Too, the children running wild on the streets of Shanghai, coming into power, turning in parents, abusing and punishing their elders, naming any and everyone at their whim as a counterrevolutionary is beyond humiliating and horrific. History is not pretty. I will revisit this collection in coming months, because it’s not out until the fall of 2017 and I want to wait to finish my review when it’s closer to the release date. But I was riveted by their struggles against poverty, trying to acclimate to a completely new culture and how it touched the lives of their children. Every immigrant experience is different, I have much more to say when we’re closer to the actual release date. These are not light stories. When I got deeper into the book, they changed tone- the characters were fascinating. Watch this space.
Publication Date: August 1, 2o17
Random House Publishing
“She intends to be a good girl, but shrubs and sheds and unlocked cupboards beckon. In photographs, her eyes sparkle with unspent mischief; the corner of her mouth quirks in a grin. She is energy that cannot abide fences. When she sleeps, her mother smooths a hand over her cheek in affection and relief.”
I am not going to be alone in loving the first story The Education Of A Witch in this collection.. In fact, is it crazy to cling to some malingering hope that Klages might be inspired to write a full novel about this wicked little girl? In another story a girl tumbles into Clue and other childhood games and dice plays a wicked “ROLL” , another two little girls have a sleepover and explore a place in the closest with a strange man named Hollis. All of these stories have a strange little bend in them but the magic isn’t overwhelming, they are ‘curiouser and curiouser’ still. None are as fantastic to me as the first but all are playful in their own right.
In Singing on a Star one could easily manipulate the story, look deeper into it. Could it all be a fantasy a little girl conjured about the sleepover to explain what happened to her friend? That’s the fun part in reading these sort of tales. We can put any meaning we want on them or just enjoy their playfulness. The lovers in Echoes of Aurora filled me with tenderness. Is she in love with a real person or her youth? “Everything was as familiar at it was alien, and in that setting, in the early spring twilight, logic and Rory could not co-exist. Rory smiled, and logic lost.” Logic truly is the murderer of our fantastical childhood. I enjoyed the originality of this collection. So many lyrical/magical stories try too hard, just throwing in weird happenings for the sake of being weird. Not so here. They aren’t outlandish in the telling-they sit just right in their strangeness.
Publication Date: May 23, 2017
“We’re all relations you know. We got that blood, that same blood. Remember that. And remember the land don’t belong to anybody. We belong to her.”
The Debwe Series features Indigenous writing by authors in Canada. The Stone Collection has stories are about the modern day Anishinaabe. There is loss, violence, death, and stones. Stones that are full of spirit. The horror that happens to an old woman, who is like a grandmother to all the children is strange, and the suicide attempt isn’t the point in Justin Root’s tale- it’s what led him there. Salvation could be the earth, in a tree’s ‘weakness’. Some of the stories didn’t hold my attention and then I would read one that moved me. The story Chloe made me think about houses all over the world, the ones you stay away from, the poor children that are trapped in them and the world turns a blind eye to. I thought too about the men who ‘make your hair stand on end’. Men who have access to children, be them their fathers, stepfather, etc. A brother who is looking for his sister he wasn’t strong enough to leave with, knowing she may have come to a terrible end. It’s a story the traverses all cultures, isn’t it? It’s a fast read and was a break from the short stories I’ve read lately. There is a taste of a different culture I knew nothing about. Stories about life on and off the rez. My favorite was Mashkii- akii because sometimes it’s beautiful to be saved by something outside yourself, like a tree.
Portage & Main Press