Friday, February 29, 2008

Women in Ukrainian literature

The Spirit of the Times / Olena Pchilka & Nataliya Kobrynska; trans. by Roma Franko
Saskatoon, SK : Language Lanterns, c2001.

This is the first book in a series (Women's Voices in Ukrainian Literature) published by the small publisher Language Lanterns, based in my home province. They've done a wonderful job of making some of the historical writing of Ukrainian women available to English readers. Many Canadians are of Ukrainian descent, but sadly, like myself, many don't read or speak Ukrainian. So to have this writing available is really meaningful for me. There are 6 volumes in this series, and still other collections they've put together, not in this specific series. Unfortunately they are only available in these functionally bound academic copies, but don't judge this one by its cover!

This volume presents stories by two writers, Olena Pchilka and Nataliya Kobrynska. Fortunately, they've also included brief biographies of these women, to place them in their historical context. Pchilka was the mother of Ukraine's most famous female poet, Lesia Ukrainka (whose work is collected in a later volume). Both women were writing approximately in the years between 1880-1930, and were well known as activists and feminists.

I enjoyed reading this primarily for its cultural significance to me personally; the writing is of course of a rather dated style, and most of it appeared in magazines and papers of the day. I found I preferred Pchilka, as her style was a bit more concise and more universal. Her longest story, The Girlfriends, was quite illuminating in its exposition of female Ukrainian life in the 1880's. I had no idea that there was a burgeoning feminist movement in Ukraine at the same time as there was nationalist fervor among the intelligensia. In The Girlfriends, a group of friends from rural Ukraine, both women and men, go to Zurich and Vienna to medical school. They meet other Slavs, including a girl from Russia, and all become as close as any group of expats at college tends to. It's very modern in ways - and when the main character returns home to her village and begins working as a doctor and midwife (quite naturally and with no great furor), two of her male friends travel to her for a visit and she ends up marrying one of them, by her own choice and simply for love. One of their coterie is a young man from her village; their mothers are close friends, and thus he is presented as the likely candidate for romance, traditionally speaking. But Pchilka plays with this expectation, and the ending is convincing. I was continually amazed by the thoughts and actions of this group of girlfriends; my preconceptions of Ukrainian life were pretty much tossed in the air and shaken around.

Kobrynska writes shorter pieces, and they are more melodramatic, with more purple prose. Many of the pieces gathered here were based on folklore, so are valuable for that reason alone. The prose was not unpleasant, just quite old fashioned. If the stories are not all perfectly constructed, that is likely because they inspired by political motives and written quickly for that reason. Both authors write about the changing spirit of Ukraine, and the upswell in nationalist feelings; they discuss writing in Ukrainian as opposed to Russian or French, they show interest in peasants and folk customs, they discuss changing social strictures on young people. They are writing about and promoting the "Spirit of the Times", the progressive elements arising in Ukraine at that time. Of course, reading it now, in light of the brutal repression to follow under the Soviet Union, is quite a melancholy experience. I'll finish with a quote by Olena Pchilka, describing the changes in society, which seems quite prescient:

The old foundations of community life, of thinking, of taste, broke up like river ice in the springtime and, crushed to pieces, they swirled away, driven by a warm, free current. Something very fresh and very young was in the air. Old hand and heads -- surprised, dejected, stunned -- were lowered, while young ones rose boldly and confidently, diligently seeking vocations. Young people looked with shining eyes directly into the rising light of justice and freedom, without ever thinking that the light could fade...

Cross-posted at The Indextrious Reader

"I'm getting fond of the room in spite of the yellow wallpaper..."

No matter how dedicated a reader I have been for the greater part of my reading life, I've managed to miss or skip so many classic literary works. Recently Litlove discussed Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, which I had not even realized was a short story rather than a novel. I had never gotten around to reading it, but my curiosity was piqued. She mentioned "The Yellow Wallpaper" along with "The Turn of the Screw" (which I read a couple of years ago) as classic tales of hysteria. I'm not sure which I liked better, but taken on its own, I like "The Yellow Wallpaper" very much. This would be an excellent story to read as part of a larger discussion, as Gilman raises so many issues about women and society and science.

The narrator, a young woman who's recently given birth, has been ordered to take bed rest by her physician husband. They've rented a "queer" mansion (why has it been so long untenanted?) and take an old nursery at the top of the house for their sleeping quarters.

"John is a physician, and PERHAPS--(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)--PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster."

Her husband doesn't believe she's sick--there is really nothing the matter with her but temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency. She's allowed nothing but rest. No books, nothing. She herself feels a bit of "congenial work" and a little change would actually be beneficial, but she's not permitted. She surreptitiously takes to writing in her journal, and it is there that we come to see her downward spiral into madness. It's the yellow wallpaper, you see--a smouldering unclean yellow, dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.

"The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. It is stripped off--the paper--in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life."

"One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin."

As stories go, this one is excellently told. As you read you feel the inner turmoil and torment that the narrator feels. She really does spiral out of control. It's no wonder she lost it having nothing to do all day, day after day, but look at that horrible yellow wallpaper. After a while she perceives a pattern to it of sorts. It's like a trellis, and behind it is a woman trying to get out. No doubt much like how she felt.

"This wall-paper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then."

"But in the places where it isn't faded and where the sun is just so--I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design."

There's so much to think about in this story. I found a critical guide about it in my library filled with essays on everything from motherhood to sickness to sexuality. More than I can possibly try and contemplate here. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is quite an interesting person herself. She underwent "the cure" as well, so she knew what she was writing about. She later committed suicide. In the critical edition I borrowed, the editor writes:

""The Yellow Wallpaper first appeared in the New England Magazine in 1892 and has since become the focus of feminine controversy, as well as celebration, concerning the heroine's confrontation with patriarchy and social duties. Gilman hoped to instruct her audience through her depiction of a woman who wants to write, who wants to do anything to avoid the boredom of isolation and the tedium of mothering."

Gilman had been treated for a breakdown after the birth of her daughter. She wanted so badly to be productive and get well that she underwent treatment that was used for "nervous prostration" invented for shell shock of Civil War victims. Gilman's cure consisted of:

"I was put to bed and kept there. I was fed, bathed, rubbed, and responded with the vigorous body of twenty-six. As far as he (her doctor) could see there was nothing the matter with me, so after a month of this agreeable treatment he sent me home, with this prescription:

'Live as domestic a life as possible. Have your child with you all the time.' (Be it remarked that if I did but dress the baby it left me shaking and crying--certainly far from a healthy companionship for her, to say nothing of the effect on me.) 'Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but two hours' intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live."
It's no wonder her doctor's cure led her to "progressive insanity", according to the text--what is known today as manic-depressive illness. Yet another frightening example of how women were "handled". I know I say this every weekend about every story/author I write about--but I do really want to read more of her work. The critical edition I borrowed included the story, so I will be adding her name to my list and will be looking for her work in the bookstore next time I drop by.

Cross posted at A Work in Progress.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Irish Girls About Town

Irish Girls About Town is an anthology of short stories by Irish women writers like Marian Keyes, Cathy Kelly and Catherine Dunne, and by and large it's very good. My favorite story is "Your Place or Mine?", a sort of chilling story about an Irish family who buys a vacation home in France and learns that what's theirs is sort of everyone's.

The other stories vary in quality but are entertaining enough. I loved the first story, Marian Keyes' "Soulmates," about a married couple that gets a long a too well for their friends. There's a lot of chick-lit type stories- breakup fantasies and such- but it's good fun and there are some real gems.

This post is cross-posted to my blog at Thanks to Kate for hosting this challenge!

The Story's Signature Space of Tethered Ferocity

Clark Blaise on the short story:

By turning away from the need to explain too much, to create, construct and establish, the story opens a space that is not available to the novel. It is the story's signature space of tethered ferocity, the eruption of gesture and repression, the accountant of the unconscious presenting his bill, the Joycean epiphany. It is the reason I call the short story an expansive form, and the novel, contrary to most opinion, contractive. The story says the most that can be said about a restricted moment in time and space. The novel says the least about a great many more.

From Clark Blaise, "The Craft of the Short Story" in Canadian Notes and Queries, issue 72.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Gipsy's Baby

London: Hesperus, c2006.

I searched out this book because it was by Rosamond Lehmann, unaware that it was a collection of short fiction, that it was in fact the only short fiction she ever published. It is made up of five stories which she wrote in the 40's for her brother's journal, New Writing.

I read three of Lehmann's books over the past year or so, and I've really grown fond of her themes and her style. In this book, she approaches once again the lives of young girls and of mature women, all struggling to make sense of a world of disappointment and struggle, both socially and romantically. The first two stories are connected, detailing different moments in the life of a well-off middle class English family and their dealings with, in the first story, a rag-tag poverty stricken family living down the lane, and in the second, a group of four adult sisters and their parents at a seaside resort. This family feels very old fashionedly English; the setting is Edwardian with their children's nursery and governess, and with parents away for extended periods. Still, they are both examinations of the mysteriousness of adult life as perceived by children, and the innocent lack of comprehension of motives or outcomes of various events. In the long lead up to The Red-haired Miss Daintreys, Lehmann discusses what is essentially her theory of writing. I found it particularly fascinating, as we've all been recently discussing in a meme what we do with leisure time. Here is Rosamond Lehmann's take on leisure time, and what a writer's writerly duty is:

Much is said and written nowadays of the proper functions and uses of leisure. Some people, as we know, are all for the organisation of spare time. Some take exercise; some sleep; some wind up the gramophone; some lean against bars or mantelpieces. Others develop the resources of the intellect. I myself have been, all my life, a privileged person with considerable leisure. When asked how I spend it, I feel both dubious and embarrassed: for any answer implying some degree of activity would be misleading. Perhaps an approximation to the truth might be reached by stating that leisure employs me -- weak aimless unsystematic unresisting instrument -- as a kind of screen upon which are projected the images of persons -- known well, a little, not at all, seen once, or long ago, or every day; or as a kind of preserving jar in which float fragments of people and landscapes, snatches of sound... Perhaps this is a wordy, unscientific way of describing the origins and processes of creative writing; yet it seems to me that nowadays this essential storing-house is often discounted... Writers should stay more patiently at the centre and suffer themselves to be worked upon. Later on, when they finally emerge towards the circumference they may have written a good novel about love or war or the class struggle. Or they may not have written a good novel at all.

The next three stories in the collection are shorter, tales of a family made up of a mother (Mrs. Ritchie), one young son (John) and one young daughter (Jane). They live in a small village during the deprivations of WWII, and experience a flood, a removal of a hive of bees from inside a wall of their house, and a village fete in support of the war effort. The first two are brief, sketches really, and I think that the story in the centre of the book, When the waters came, is my favourite piece. It is very short, but carries a sense of menace at odds with the bucolic countryside and the expectations of English village stories. The last line turns the story brilliantly. I found I could really appreciate both this story and the next, A Dream of Winter, because of their succinct form; they were both well constructed impressions of intense moments in this family's life.

The last story, Wonderful Holidays, is once again a lengthy description of the inhabitants of the village (primarily women) as they put together a theatrical with their children during school holidays. It reveals some pretty beastly children; I'm glad I wasn't around when all this was going on! Still, it gives an idea of the rationing and making-do that was expected during the war, and of the effects the war had on varied families and village society in general. It also quite strongly exhibits the class prejudices still prevalent, and is a bit shocking in the callous remarks made by our saintly heroines after going to all the work of providing a theatrical:

"Nerves are getting frayed on the committee," said Mrs. Ritchie... "The village feel we ought to be running it all for them. They're alarmed, I suppose, at the responsibility. If we butt in they think we're patronising and if we retire they think we're snobbish. Both ways they're resentful."

"My dear, I know" said Mrs. Carmichael.

Once again, I found new elements to admire in Lehmann's writing. She adroitly portrays the fearful moments in children's lives, and the necessity in women's lives to carry on despite fear or unhappiness. These stories carry within themselves so many lives, such a variety of existence among the often neglected characters of single women, widows, spinsters, children, or even damaged men. It's well worth the time to read this collection.

I'll be searching out her novel The Echoing Grove next, as it was made into a film (with mixed reviews) which I'd like to see: but I must always read the book first!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Selected Tales by Jacques Ferron

Jacques Ferron writes modern fairy tales. These stories, many of them very short, are set in Quebec and generally follow the conventions of the conte, commenting on society through a combination of the matter-of-fact and the fantastic. Ferron's writing spanned the period before and after the Quiet Revolution, and much of it is concerned with the transition from the rural society of the habitants to the modern world, yet they also offer wry and witty comment on la condition humaine in general. They are often told from the point of view of a village doctor - as Ferron himself was, as a young man in the Gasp├ęsie - with his privileged view of the troubles of both the wealthy and the poor.

Selected Tales is translated by Betty Bednarski, who offers the only route to enjoying the stories for many readers: Ferron's writing is clearly too idiosyncratic for non-francophones, employing such gems as his own transliterations of English with words such as "cuiquelounche" (quick lunch). Happily, Bednarski, who is a wonderfully thoughtful translator, leaves these in the text, supplying the translation in a footnote, so that we can feel we are in on the joke). Even in English, though, the style is quirky and informal: "The Sirens" begins:

And then, one day, the blacksmith cum garage-man, who was beginning to have a bellyful of the Odyssey, said to Ulysses: "You've been back in Ithaca [that's Ithaca Corner, Ontario] all of fifteen years. Why not take a little trip down East? Montreal isn't that far...."

Ulysses is kindly allowed to go by Penelope: "[A]fter all, a weekend was not the Trojan War."

Many of the stories present a vignette of village life, while others, such as "The Bridge" describe the urbanisation of a rural population. This story is typical in its construction, being in the form of a memoir. It begins, with a twist on "once upon a time" - "This was some time ago." and tells how the narrator has been used to seeing an old woman carrying scrap metal across the bridge from Couteau Rouge to Montreal. The woman, her home and her journey are described, as is the birth of her third child. And then, the narrator observes, she simply disappears without explanation.

Not all stories are so brief. My favourite is "The Dead Cow in the Canyon", a rather lugubrious story of a young habitant who moves to the "Farwest" to farm like his father. In Calgary, distracted by meeting a putative cousin, he is persuaded into marrying the daughter of a Chief, before setting off to farm in a canyon with his new wife and a heifer. The heifer is as easily distracted as the young man has been, and pines for a mate, but while her rather feckless owners return to the city to find her one, she dies of thirst. Her subsequent story is poignant and whimsical and, I would say, fairly representative of Ferron in both style and theme. Ferron set up the Rhinoceros Party (so-called because politicans are "thick-skinned, slow-moving, dim-witted" creatures) to promote humour rather than violence as an agent of political change, and this shows in his distinctive and quirky writing. His work as a psychiatrist, too, informs his understanding of human nature, and the "lost" voice of the psychiatric patient can be heard transformed, in stories which are often concerned with the poor, the mad, or the fantastic. With his pleasure in the nuance of language, and his attention to the traditional elements of the conte, Ferron offers us something which seems simple and at times even naive, yet is imbued with rich veins of humour and social comment. Highly recommended.

Cross-posted at Geranium Cat's Bookshelf.

John Mutford's 6th Short Story Pick- Kenneth J. Harvey's "No better a house"

Short Story Monday

Cross posted at The Book Mine Set.

I'm still in Newfoundland visiting family, so this post will once again be short. I picked today's story (Kenneth J. Harvey's No better a house) because it's by a Newfoundlander and certainly captures a lot of how I've felt this trip. It deals with change, resiliency, and the subjectivity of progress all at once. Unlike Leon Rooke's "Yellow House" which I wrote about a couple weeks back, the pacing here is less jarring. Whereas Rooke masterfully kept the intensity high with sudden and unexpected juxtapositions, Harvey employs a different tactic but with no less skill. Somehow this one felt more sneaky. At one point I realized my eyebrows had raised yet I had no idea when it happened.

The Soundtrack
1. Less Cities More Moving People- The Fixx
2. My Old Wooden Shack- Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers
3. Burning Down The House- Talking Heads
4. On The Real- Bottled Beats
5. I Shall Not Be Moved- Johnny Cash

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears - Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

This volume contains 22 tales and poems by 21 different authors. It is another blend of science fiction, fantasy, horror and erotic adult re-tellings of fairy tales. It includes a few from ouside Europe and is my favourite of the series so far.

Ruby Slippers - Susan Wade
A mixture of "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Red Shoes" by Hans Christian Andersen told as an interview with Dorothy later on in her life. I like the twisting of the original tale by Frank L Baum.

The Beast - Tanith Lee
Her take on "Beauty and the Beast". Isobel is married to the handsome and rich Vessavian who collects beautiful objects. As time goes on she uncovers his secret collection of beautiful objects he has taken from ugly settings.

Masterpiece - Garry Kilworth
A look at "Rumplestiltskin" and people who make bargains and fail to keep them. Susan Quarry is offered a deal by mysterious Mr Black one day that will make her a famous painter and let her create one masterpiece. Along the way she falls in love with her dealer, marries him and has a son. When Ms Black returns to collect her most precious object she is torn between giving her husband, child or masterpiece up.

Summer Wind - Nancy Kress
A look at the takes of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Briar Rose". Here Briar Rose awakens long before everyone else in the castle and becomes an old woman watching vaiours princes die in the briar surrounding the castle. Eventually one breaks through and the inhabitants awaken and she slips away, an old woman not recognised by her staff and subjects.

This Centuary of Sleep or, Briar Rose Beneath the Sea - Fariada S.T Shapiro
A poetical re-telling of Sleeping Beauty.

The Crossing - Joyce Carol Oates
Another look at Sleeping Beauty and Briar Rose looking at Martha who is in a coma after a car accident. She lingers on life support and dreams she is in an aunts house watching the train go by until one day she boards it and never wakes up.

Roach in Loafers - Roberta Lannes
A look at Puss 'n' Boots but with a cockroach instead of a cat. Funny and quirky.

Naked Little Men - Michael Cadnum
"The Shoemaker and the Elves" told by his wife.

Brown Bear - Lisa Goldstein
A blend of "Goldilocks" with animal bridegroom elements. It is a lovely blend of Native American symbolism of bears and a girl from their tribe Quick who marries and bears a child of the bears linking the two for ever.

The Emperor who had never seen a Dragon - John Brunner
Based on many Chinese tales looking at unjust rulers being overthrown by the common people and the moral that they need not forever be slaves to Imperial rule.

Billy Fearless - Nancy A Collins
Based on the Brothers Grimm "A Tale about a boy who went forth to learn what Fear was" but with an added Southern flavour. Billy manages to survive three nights in a haunted house winning riches and a wife.

The Death of Koshohei the Deathless (a tale of Old Russia) - Gene Wolfe
A Russian fairy tale with some of the blanks fomr the original filled. A son avenges his father who unknowingly fell in love with his sister. A fun tale but with sinister overtones with much still left unsaid.

The Real Princess - Susan Palwick
A look at the sinister motives in "The Princess and the Pea" of a Prince who wants a wife who bruises easily. Fairies are mixed in as well as much violence.

The Huntsman's Story - Milbre Burch
A poem written in response to the discovery of Polly Klass's body two months after the 12 year old was kidnapped. A sinister look at the huntsman who comes unbidden into our lives.

After Push Comes to Shove - Milbre Burch
Written during the 1993 Los Angeles fires. The witch from Hansel and Grettel burns in the oven and looks ahead to the death of the children who poison each other fighting over their forgotten fathers will.

Hansel and Grettel - Gahan Wilson
Hansel and Grettel in this story come from a very rich family and after finding their way home are given a large sum of money to live their own lives. They do much pleasure seeking staying only in the best hotels and later searching out other hidden places of interest. They discover a castle in the Black Forest which contains many life-like gold statues of humans in warrior poses. They are taken to the secret centre of the castle where there are statues looking afraid. They discover the truth of the statues and the story is told to a listener encouraging them to seek out the castle in turn.

Match Girl - Anne Bishop
Her first professional sale looking at the tale of The Little Match Girl but with more violence as well as a different kind of release for her at the end.

Waking the Prince - Kathe Koja
A look at "Sleeping Beauty" twisting the original to the Prince being the one who sleeps. His mother works magic to let him life a half life in our time but remain sleeping in his own.

The Fox Wife - Ellen Steiber
An interesting Japanese tale based on a doctor who treated patients said to be possess by Kitsume (the Fox) in 1892. The Fox is known as a trickster and in this tale it aids Haruko who is forced to marry a viscious Samauri Lord Ikeda. She takes her maid O-Shima who tells the tale of her possession and later escape.

The White Road - Neil Gaiman
A poem based on the fairy tale "Mr Fox" with a violent and unsettling ending dream sequence and ending.

The Traveller and The Tale - Jane Yolen
A science fiction story of a woman sent back in time to add stories into the French villages history to help them fight off alien invaders in the future and not succumb to their rule. Once she has travelled back she is unable to return to her own time. It contains another story within it, one the travller told to the village, which involves changeling aspects.

The Printer's Daughter - Delia Sherman
A re-telling of a Russian tale "The Snow Child" originally about a middle-aged couples desire for a child. This version sees an alchemist helping a printer who needs an apprentice to print his papers into a book. He makes a child out of paper and as the printer finds work hard to come by she can only speak from the paper she is written on which is a porographic tale and a series of sermons by the local reverend. She is turned into a book at the end by poet Robert Blanke with a dedication to her father and the poet.

My favourite tale was "The Real Princess" which is the second time I have enjoyed a re-telling of The Princess and the Pea the most. I also really liked The Beast, Masterpiece, Roach in Loafers, The Huntsman's Story, Hansel and Grettel, Match Girl and The Fox Wife (by far the longest tale in the collection). Recommended to all lovers of fairy tales and great stories.
I combed my bookshelf for short story collections I've been meaning to read. Most of the collections are completely unread; in a few cases, I've read one of the stories already. I'm also reading my way through the complete works of Alice Munro--it looks as though this will be the Year of the Short Story for me!

Here's my list for the Challenge:

1. Moral Disorder, Margaret Atwood

2. Aurora Montrealis, Monique Proulx

3. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

4. People You’d Trust Your Life To, Bronwen Wallace

5. Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie

6. Island, Alistair MacLeod

7. Don’t Tell Anyone, Frederick Busch

8. The Stories (So Far) of Deborah Eisenberg

9. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore

10. Lucky Girls, Nell Freudenberger

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Paingod and Other Delusions by Harlan Ellison


Robert Heinlein says, "This book is raw corn liquor-- you should serve a whiskbroom with each shot so the customer can brush the sawdust off after he gets up from the floor."

Perhaps a mooring cable might also be added as necessary equipment for reading these eight wonderful stories: They not only knock you down. . . .they raise you to the stars. Passion is the keynote as you encounter the Harlequin and his nemesis, the dreaded Ticktockman, in one of the most reprinted and widely taught stories in the English language; a pyrotic who creates fire merely by willing it; the last surgeon in a world of robot physicians; a spaceship filled with hideous mutants rejected by the world that gave them birth. Touching and gentle and shocking stories from an incomparable master of impossible dreams and troubling truths."

  • Paingod
  • "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman
  • The Crackpots
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Bright Eyes
  • The Discarded
  • Wanted in Surgery
  • Deeper Than the Darkness
My thoughts:

Disturbing, poignant, thought-provoking - all terms to describe these intense stories about pain, struggle and courage. All except "Repent, Harlequin!" were new to me and I found some new Ellison favorites in The Discarded, Bright Eyes and Wanted in Surgery.

Date read: 1/29/2008
Rating: 4*/5 = great
(SS) Yearly Count: 1/5

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Smoke And Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

(Cross-posted at boldblueadventure)

I'm developing kind of a crush on Neil Gaiman. This is the third piece of his writing that I've read in a short period of time, and I loved it. Smoke and Mirrors is enjoyable for totally different reasons than American Gods or Anansi Boys, being that it is a collection of short stories. Consuming Gaiman in small bites is entertaining, funny, morbid, and sometimes hazardous to contented eating. (Consider this your warning before you start reading The Daughter of Owls or Only the End of the World Again).

Some of the stories are just plain entertaining, like Chivalry, a story about a woman who finds a grail in a second-hand shop, or The Price about a guardian cat. Other stories prattle on a bit without much of a point (The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories). I laughed out loud at Nicholas Was..., where we learn the truth about Santa Claus and his relationship with the infamous north pole elves.

I have a weakness for retellings of fairy tales, and so I loved his rewrite of Snow White Snow, Glass, Apples which reveals that Snow White was actually a blood-sucking vampire that the Queen had to kill in order to protect her kingdom. I also liked Troll Bridge, a sort of take on the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

There were a number of stories that had a more solid "message" behind them, like Babycakes (written for PETA, it speculates that once we run out of animals to eat, we'll turn to babies) or Foreign Parts (something long and boring about STDs), and they were, in my opinion, less entertaining.

(read the rest...)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Agatha Christie
Genre: Short Story
Published: 1932/1985 Collection
Personal Rating: 3.75/5
(SS) Yearly Count: 2

The Tuesday Night Club is one of thirteen stories from The Tuesday Night Murders. The five visitors in Miss Marple's home declare themselves a "Club". They are to meet every Tuesday and "each member in turn has to propound a problem. Some mystery of which they have personal knowledge, and to which, of course, they know the answer." The first up is Sir Henry Clithering, former Commissioner of Scotland Yard. He shares a true drama.

For no particular reason, Agatha Christie has eluded me until now. This short story with Miss Marple as the lead character was my first introduction to her and I was rather pleased. I'm fairly certain the next twelve stories are the tales that the other members bring to the table. I will definitely continue with this collection and seek out other work by the ever-so-popular Agatha Christie. Any suggestions?


Tobias Wolff
Genre: Short Story
Published: The New Yorker, 2005
Personal Rating: 3/5
(SS) Yearly Count: 1

Sergeant Morse was finishing up his duty when a call comes in from a woman looking for her brother, Billy Hart. Morse reveals that he was shipped out for Iraq a week earlier and offered to help her. As the story progresses, I found that Morse's curiosity about the sister was different from what I expected. The difference happens to be the core of the story.

It was a good story and I liked the fact that I had to think a little as to what the point was or what conflict was resolved. However, I would have liked more substance or direction, so I wouldn't have to guess at the author's meaning.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories

Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories by Garth Nix

Pages: 305
First Published: 2005
Rating: 3.5/5

Comments: This is a collection of 12 short stories and 1 novella by the author, each previously published in one format or another. The best of the collection is the title story, a novella set in the world of the Abhorsen trilogy and a direct sequel to the third book, Abhorsen. The other stories vary, some I really liked, others did nothing for me. Generally, Nix's writing is grim and dark and it is these stories that I enjoyed. The few stories that were light or humourous just did not entertain me at all. I highly recommend the reading of the title story for fans of the trilogy. The rest of the stories may be enjoyed by those who have read most of Nix's other work.

#1 - Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case - This 95-page novella starts shortly after the events of the book Abhorsen. Nicholas Sayre is recuperating in Ancelstierre at the home of an acquaintance of his father's. He soon finds that the body of a Free Magic creature is stored in the underground rooms. The creature is not dead though and soon finds the strength to return to life but he has a craving for blood. Nicholas must stop the beast before he kills them all. This was a wonderful, fast-paced read that gave the reader greater insight into Nicholas' character. An appearance by Lireal at the end is a delight. I don't think the story would make much sense to anyone who hasn't read the trilogy though.

#2 - Under the Lake - An Arthurian tale of the Lady in the Lake. A quiet, lyrical story that tells of how the lady, who is not really a lady at all, ended up in the lake. This was just ok, different but nothing special.

#3. Charlie Rabbit - This was a very grim story of children in wartime. A boy and his little brother, along with his toy rabbit, are alone when their house is bombed in the middle of the night. A chilling tale.

#4. From the Lighthouse - This was a bit strange and I'm not sure I really got it. A man arrives on an island and tells the residents that he has just bought the island and is now their new owner. His guide pretends to be happy for him but has other plans in mind.

#5. The Hill - A boy rushes off to tell his great-great-grandfather that his father is selling the family property. So the old man rushes off to prevent it. Another good one.

#6. Lightning Bringer - A man comes to town wielding a terrible power. He realizes that a boy can see his power and is just like him. He tells the boy he must use his power before he loses it. There is more to the story but it would give it away to say more. I liked this one, it was pretty cool.

#7. Down to the Scum Quarter - This was a lot of fun! A parody of the choose your own adventure books, you must rescue your beloved who has been kidnapped and taken to the seedy part of town. My first try, I made three moves and ended up dead. Then I started over and made it through to the end alive. I used to be addicted to these books as a kid so this was really fun for me.

#8. Heart's Desire - In this story we learn the reasons behind the Merlin/Nimue story of Arthurian legend. Merlin is my favourite Arthurian character and the Merlin/Nimue relationship intrigues me but this story fell flat with me. It was just overall, rather boring.

#9. Hansel's Eyes - A retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story with a modern twist. The witch entices children not with candy but with PlayStation games and systems, nor does she wish to eat the children but rather sells their parts for organ transplants. This was very good and one of my favourites.

#10. Hope Chest - This is one of the longer stories in the book and aside from the title novella, my favourite story in the book. This is set in a quasi wild west/alternate USA world. A baby is found abandoned in a small town. One family adopts her and she grows up to be a young lady. The baby was found with a large hope chest but no one has ever been able to open it. Upon the girl's 16th birthday, the chest opens for her and the girl's destiny starts to unravel as she must save the town from an evil that is taking over the world. This was really good and one of those stories you want more of and wish there were a whole book.

#11. My New Really Epic Fantasy Series - This is a humourous speech the author has given several times that is a parody of epic fantasy series. I didn't find it particularly funny.

#12. Three Roses - Very short, sweet fairy tale about a gardener who grows roses with the love of his dead wife.

#13. Endings - Another very short story. A vampire tells how, in the end, he was killed. The last two stories were short but I enjoyed them both.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Friend of My Youth

When I chose Friend of My Youth by Alice Munroe as one of my selections for this challenge, I was aware of her reputation as a short story writer par excellence, and that reputation is certainly well deserved. Each one of these 10 stories unfolds like slow motion photography, the characters revealing their deep, often surprising secrets with cool restraint, as the stories of their lives develop before our eyes.

Like Brenda, (Five Points) who "used to teach nursery school," and her husband Cornelius "who was twelve years older." Now they live on a farm and sell used appliances, which Cornelius "fixes up." And in the evenings, Brenda drives out of town to meet Neil, her lover. When she sets eyes on him, waiting for her in his Mercury, "it's like hitting water when you're dead of heat and scratched and bitten all over from picking berries in the summer bush - the lapping sweetness, the cool kindness of it soaking up all your troubles in its hidden depths."

And Georgia, (Differently) who works part-time in a bookstore, while her husband Ben is "off on his yearly cruise in the Navy." She enjoys meeting people, talking with them about books, making cups of raspberry tea. When Miles first comes into the store, leaving his motorcycle parked at the curb, she's immediately drawn to his "valiant profile, his dusty red hair (he took off his helmet and shook out his hair before coming into the store), and his quick, slouching, insolent, invading way of moving." Soon, with his "oblivious prowling, and unsmiling, lengthy, gray-eyed looks, he had Georgia in a disturbed and not disagreeable state." So when he asks her to go riding on his motorcycle, "Georgia said yes; she knew what was bound to happen."

(Is it getting warm in here, or is it just me?)

The mysteries of life - of which clandestine sexuality is only one - figure largely in each of these stories. A recent widow travels to Scotland to connect with the people and places her husband spoke of seeing during his service in the war, and finds things not at all as she expected them to be (Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass). A retired minister creates an elaborate ruse in order to live the remainder of his life on his own terms (Pictures of the Ice). And, in the title story, a woman's strange dreams about her mother's last illness reveal some complex truths about their relationship.

I was drawn to each of the characters in these stories, completely involved in their tales of birth, marriage, divorce, death. My heart ached for them, these women from small Canadian farming communities coming of age in the 50's and 60's, and confronted with the task of remaking their lives in a world where all the expectations have suddenly changed.

Alice Munroe is a remarkable writer, her words chosen so carefully, her sentences structured so beautifully, creating rich, warm portraits of people and place. Each story is completely satisfying (even to this ravenous reader who has never before found short stories fulfilling), with the complexity of a novel deftly compacted into just a few pages. These are "writer's stories," so perfectly crafted they become the "true north" in the galaxy of short story writing.

Friend of My Youth has converted me, a short story cynic, into a short story lover. Now, I can't wait to get my hands on another one of Munroe's collections - and since she's written at least 10 of them (and only one novel!), I'll have plenty to feast on for quite some time.

Friend of My Youth
by Alice Munroe
published 1990, by Alfred Knopf
273 pages

crossposted at Bookstack

Saturday, February 16, 2008

My Short Story Challenge List

I've begun my Short Story Challenge reading but haven't yet posted my list. This is because I keep changing my mind about which collections should be included on that list. I decided that the form my challenge would take would be to read ten collections by ten authors whose short stories I've never read before. But even with a generous allotment of ten books and the stricture that they must be by authors new to me, I've been having trouble narrowing it down. There are so many collections out there that I already wanted to read. And, of course, the great reviews that are accumulating here are tempting me in a multitude of new directions. But then it occurred to me that I've pledged to read a minimum of ten not a maximum, so I need not feel constrained by the posting of my list. The following is my provisional list then, and please keep the recommendations coming!

Eileen Chang, Love in a Fallen City;

Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories;

Laura Hird, Hope and Other Urban Tales;

Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners;

Leonard Michaels, The Collected Stories;

Z.Z. Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere;

Nathan Sellyn, Indigenous Beasts;

William Trevor, Cheating at Canasta;

Simon Van Booy, The Secret Lives of People in Love; and,

Tim Winton, The Turning.

Shiloh and Other Stories, by Bobbie Ann Mason

Bobbie Ann Mason is one of those authors whose works I'm always meaning to read, but when it comes right down to picking out books and reading them, I forget about her. When I was casting around for titles to put on my Short Story Challenge reading list, her name popped right into my head, so I suppose it was meant to be—I chose her first collection, Shiloh and Other Stories. Particularly with stories, I like to begin with first collections and work my way forward, because I think a writer develops differently through short stories than through novels. Short stories are a specific craft, and they feel more personal—even if they aren't biographical—because you can see the writer change, get better, develop tics and drop bad habits. With novels, the writer conducts an orchestra—if the story hits a false note, you might not recognize it, distracted as you might be by other subplots, by suspense. A short story, though, is the author alone with an acoustic guitar and a spotlight. One mistake can ruin an entire set, put the whole show on the wrong course.

In Shiloh and Other Stories, Mason explores simple territory, the lives of small-town dreamers and earnest farmers trying to get through retirement, illness, divorce, or just the changing times. Almost all of the stories are set in Western Kentucky, that point where the South meets the Midwest, so her characters tend to be less dark, less plagued by the dense woods, alcoholism, religious fanaticism, or all-around Gothic sensibility than those of more Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor or Larry Brown. In many ways these stories made me think of Haven Kimmel's wonderful memoir (published several decades after these stories), A Girl Named Zippy. Both writers have such a talent for looking at the most everyday people and events through their microscopic lenses and finding the tiny hairs and moles, the cracks and hiccups and strangeness that make the ordinary unique. Just as Kimmel's stories are so vivid and well told that they read like the best fiction, Mason's stories are so grounded they seem to be true.

In my favorite story from the collection, "The Rookers," Mary Lou Skaggs comes to realize the burden of her growing power over her husband, who becomes more reclusive with each passing day: "Mary Lou suddenly realizes that Mack calls the temperature number because he is afraid to talk on the telephone, and by listening to a recording, he doesn't have to reply. It's his way of pretending that he's involved. He wants it to snow so he won't have to go outside. He is afraid of what might happen. But it occurs to her that what he must really be afraid of is women. Then Mary Lou feels so sick and heavy with her power over him that she wants to cry." This is a thread that runs through all of Mason's stories, the quiet power women have in families, the binding ties they create with the lightest and most ethereal threads that hold their worlds together like the thickest rope no matter how far family members might stray. I suppose what Mason is ultimately exploring here, though, is that thing called home, the people and the place that make up a person no matter where she is in the world.

In "Nancy Culpepper" (which is also the name of Mason's latest story collection), Mason explores these ties through the story of a woman torn between her childhood home and her marriage home, between two versions of family. Nancy Culpepper travels to Kentucky to help her parents move her grandmother into a nursing home, and while she's there she hopes to find pictures and learn about an ancestor of hers by the same name. The story weaves through time, back and forth between Kentucky and Nancy's wedding day in New York (her parents unaware of and uninvited to her nuptials), between her vision of her family and her husband's: "After supper, Nancy showed Jack the farm. As they walked through the fields, Nancy felt that he was seeing peaceful landscapes--arrangements of picturesque cows, an old red barn. She had never thought of the place this way before; it reminded her of prints in a dimestore." Nancy's husband Jack is a photographer, and Nancy herself is searching for the elusive photo of her ancestor, but the story seems to question the notion of what is seen and what is real, how vision of a person or a thing is skewed by the seer, by his or her need for the person or thing to be something else entirely than what is presented. In the end, Nancy finds the photo, an old wedding portrait of her ancestor Nancy Culpepper and her husband on an old brocade sofa: "The woman looks frightened--of the camera perhaps--but nevertheless her deep-set eyes sparkle like shards of glass...The man seems bewildered, as if he did not know what to expect, marrying a woman who has her eyes fixed on something so far away."

All of Mason's women seem to have their eyes fixed on some point beyond the horizon, even as they're bound to families and farms. They are as knowledgeable and aware in many ways as women in the stories of, say, Alice Munro, but they are also less likely to run. It's as though, by staying rooted in one place, they expect their true selves to appear one day, walk across a field, and announce they've come home to stay.

*image from

Monday, February 11, 2008

John Mutford's 5th Short Story Pick- Leon Rooke's "Yellow House"

Short Story Monday

There's a lot about Leon Rooke's "Yellow House" that I'd call relentless. The tone is relentless, the pace is relentless, the mystery is relentless, the symbolism is relentless and the contrasts are relentless.

For all of that, I held on as if I had no choice. If you're seasick in the middle of the Atlantic, you either get over it or prepare for a long, vomit-filled journey back to the nearest pharmacy and precious Gravol.

For all of that-- and this is where the seasick analogy falls overboard-- I enjoyed it. Immensely. Even the bizarre, fishy ending that I still can't quite figure out (along with what the heck affliction they were suffering from and just who were those Geeks anyway?) And if I have a question within parentheses within a statement, does a period follow the closing bracket?

I often use short stories to gauge whether or not I should read a longer piece by a particular author. I'll definitely be reading more by Rooke.

The Soundtrack:
1. Soon One Mornin' (Death Come A-Creepin' In My Room)- Mississippi Fred McDowell
2. Shiny Happy People- R.E.M.
3. Woe- Tom Waits
4. Peaches- Presidents of the United States of America
5. Hope You're Feeling Better- Santana

Cross posted at The Book Mine Set.

Next Up at the Short Story Discussion Group

The votes are in, and the story selected to serve as the focus of the February short story discussion at A Curious Singularity is Alice Munro's "The View From Castle Rock". Click on the title to access the story online. Of course, you can also find it in Munro's most recent book which takes its title from the story.

As usual, the discussion will begin on the second Tuesday of the month: members of the group are invited to begin posting their thoughts on the story at the A Curious Singularity blog on February 12th. I'm looking forward to reading what everyone has to say about it.

If you're not yet a member of the group and you would like to join, please e-mail me. New members are always welcome! Of course, anyone can contribute to the discussion through the comments sections of the posts without officially joining the group.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Scent of Cinnamon

The Scent of Cinnamon by Charles Lambert is a short story that takes place in the early American West. A simple love story unfolds between Joseph Broderick and Miriam Payne beginning with a brief exchange of letters that introduces themselves and their intentions.

It would do, he thought. He looked at the photograph for a moment and saw a man, a liver-spotted dog, a house, then folded the sheet of paper around it and slid them both into the envelope. Miriam Payne, he murmured, writing these words in his small clear forward-sloping hand, and beneath them an address in Cornwall, a country he had never seen. Miriam Payne, he repeated in a stronger voice, then: Miriam Broderick. Yes. It would do.

Several weeks later, Joseph prepares to meet Miriam upon her arrival on the spice boat. On his way, however, the wheel of his wagon becomes stuck in a rut and he struggles to free it. He feels quite poorly afterwards from the physical exertion and suddenly feels a sharp pain in his chest and shoulder. He rests for a while, possibly falling asleep, and awakens feeling stronger than before and now able to continue his journey to the docks. There, Miriam is still waiting for him. It is love at first sight and they head home to begin their new life together as a couple.

"Miriam," he repeated in a voice so quiet he wondered how she could have heard. She kissed his mouth.

"I am God's gift to you," she said. "That's what Miriam means, did you know that? God's gift."

Their life continues quite well for the next month, with the exception of Jasper the dog disappearing the night of Miriam's arrival. Then one morning Joseph decides to go into the harbor town to find the latest local news. During that trip Joseph makes three startling discoveries, one of which includes finding an unbelievable letter posted on the wall near the traders' shops. What he reads will shock him.

And possibly the reader.

I very much enjoyed The Scent of Cinnamon for its vivid description and its winding storyline that makes you think about what may or may not be happening within this story. Although I knew the direction in which the story was heading, the final ending still gave me a slight surprise and made the love story between Joseph and Miriam even sweeter.

"The Scent of Cinnamon" by Charles Lambert from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007 edited by Laura Furman

Friday, February 8, 2008


Hello Everyone,

This is such a great idea. I've been meaning to read more & more widely for so long, but without any plan it never happened...

I'm going with Option #1. And I'll be trying (since I'll only be reading English Language short stories) to read stories written (in translation!) in 10 different countries--starting with Japan because I also have a copy of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami!

Monday, February 4, 2008

"BATTLE ROYAL" by Ralph Ellison

Hello, Everyone!

I'm a novice when it comes to short stories. I'm working to develop an appreciation for them, and I have chosen Option #1. Most of the stories I read will come from a Literature textbook kindly given to me recently by an English professor with whom my husband works. My first story for the year is "Battle Royal" by Ralph Ellison, and you can follow the link to read my impressions on my blog.

I'm looking forward to more discoveries such as this.
Thanks for the Challenge!
White Bear Lake, MN

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Short Stories read by Seachanges

I have reviewed two collections of short stories at 51Stories. One is Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and the other Susan Hill's The Boy who Taught the Beekeeper to Read. Both are excellent in very different ways, but go ahead and read the full reviews!

The Laws of Evening, by Mary Yukari Waters

My first selection for the Short Story Reading Challenge was The Laws of Evening, by Mary Yukari Waters. These stories, set in Japan and China, deal as much with the collective conscious (and conscience) of a nation during and after World War II as with the lives of the men and women who inhabit them. The protagonists are mostly women, and mostly elderly, looking back on lives of considerable losses, through war and illness and change. No historical account I have read about Japan after WWII has presented such a clear picture of a nation walking the fine line between its ancient culture and a modern, more Westernized way of life.

As an American reading these stories, I'm reminded again and again that I do not know what it is like to live in a country conquered and then occupied by its conquerors, no matter how short the period of occupation might be. What strikes me is that the occupation is not only physically invasive, but mentally so as well. It is difficult to believe that regeneration after such devastating loss could feel unwelcome, that somehow the emptiness is more fulfilling than the thing replacing the loss.

Waters' characters face not only the loss of spouses and children and parents, but of whole villages. People are stripped of their family history, their culture. Waters shows this not through a physical picture of war-torn cities, not through a list of items lost in bombings, but through the smallest details of life. In one story, "Since My House Burned Down," an elderly Japanese woman watches her daughter-in-law teach her daughter to eat with a knife and fork: "What a barbaric way to eat, I thought. Wielding iron spears and knives right at the table, stabbing and slicing--chores that should be performed in the privacy of a kitchen, leaving diners' energies free for thoughts of a higher order. At that moment a strange foreboding rose up in my belly: a sense that my world, indeed my entire understanding of it, was on the threshold of great change."

In another story, "Kami," an elderly woman, Hanae, follows advice she hears on the radio in her effort to stay healthy and vigorous in old age. She lost her husband in the war, and then married a man she did not love. "[In] the period after her second husband's funeral, Mitsu's condolences had brought home the truth: despite anything else fate might still hold in store, the basic outcome of Hanae's life was complete. Mitsu's formal dress and prostration had impressed this onto Hanae's mind like a huge red stamp on a shipping crate: Unfortunate Life. Dashed Hopes." But each night she lulls herself to sleep by imagining her body repairing and strengthening itself, her mind "[resolving] emotion and memory into increasingly healthy patterns; each cell knowing, without her intervention, exactly what to do." Her resilience, however small, tells the story of a nation. Hopes are not dashed, and life continues. In another story, "Circling the Hondo," (a hondo is a hall of worship in a Buddhist temple) a character says, "'The ancient sages said we all have in us some larger consciousness that keeps growing, widening, with time. And they said: That is all that matters. Our bodies must evolve, and our minds must evolve, in order to accommodate it."

This is as true for lives as it is for relationships in Waters' stories, although where love and death are concerned, adaptation can be painful. My favorite story in the collection is "Rationing," which appeared in the Best American Short Stories 2003, where I first encountered it. I read that collection every year, and in that edition "Rationing" is the first story. It might not be fair, but each year I tend to make a snap judgment based on that first story, and I remember thinking the collection would be particularly good that year. I was surprised when I saw it here again, because I tend to gobble up singular stories like vending machine snacks, enjoying them immensely at the time and forgetting them later. It felt lucky, finding this story again, about a father and son, their relationship over time, the complication of generations and cultures clashing. At the beginning of the story, Saburo is a teenager, his father a professor of astronomy at a local university. As he ages, Saburo's father loses his sight, and his son cares for him, taking him on weekly outings, listening to his lectures about the cosmos. The plot is less than original, but it's so beautifully and touchingly told through Waters' graceful prose, it brings tears to my eyes every time I read it.

For my anniversary this year, I received an iron vase adorned with cherry blossoms. The vase, reflecting the Japanese tradition of ikebana, the art of flower arranging, has three sides representing heaven, man, and earth. Traditionally, these arrangements do not involve floral bouquets as they do in Western culture, but instead are an arrangement of branches with carefully placed floral elements. To me, Waters' stories reflect this same tender care, arranging the bare bones of a life and then carefully placing those events, like flowers, that make them magnificent to behold.

You can read an extended version of this review on my blog, Sweet Diva. --Greeneyes

*image from

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Woman in the Woods

(Cross posted on Thirty One and a Half)

My first official short story challenge selection is The Woman in the Woods by Ann Joslin Williams. I came to Williams by way of "Cascom Mountain Road," a story published in Story Quarterly, issue 42. There are many, many good stories in that issue but I was so entranced by that particular story, that I immediately sought out more.

The stories in the collection are all set in the mountains of New Hampshire and follow a brother and sister through their lives. The collection is centered on David and Kate and in the first story we learn that they lost their father when they were children and that Kate lost a young son, and with it, her marriage. All together, the collection paints a collage of these lives, through their adolescence and the discovery of new love, through the eventual loss of their own loves, marriages, and children. Taken individually, each story is a beautiful moment in time.
"Before this day there were many other days, like the day Jeff Driver found the beagle lying dead on the trail, and how he wrapped the dog in a blue blanket, carried it to them like a baby. Or when Peter Lorde drove his big truck through the little poplar trees to make a road, and how they popped as they broke and flattened under the tires. Or when her mother and father held each other and circled the living room to the beat of a scratchy blues record, and how he lifted her and stood her on the table and held her hand so they danced like that, with him below and reaching up to her."
Williams' writing is rich with imagery, creating a world I found myself never wanting to leave. These are not just the stories of lives, but the stories of extraordinary lives. Whether it's a woman that's part deer or a cult hitching a ride on the back of a comet, there's an element of the extraordinary in every story. But it's not flashy. It's handled with such subtlety that you may lose it among the stunning prose.

I loved this collection as much as the original story that turned me on to Williams. I highly recommend it and I hope there will be more stories from Cascom Mountain one day.