Thursday, January 24, 2013

Storytime 2013: Short story blitz

I think I will start saying how I happened upon these books. Sometimes that can be fun.

Short stories are great to keep on the nightstand, because you can read a whole one, then close the book up and go to sleep. Unfortunately, these two are not exactly bedtime stories...

"Black Juice" by Margo Lanagan

This collection of short stories was recommended by a friend from my program in college and who is now an English teacher. It was a suggestion for my quest to read more female authors.

Every single one of these stories is really strange. I am the first to fall in love with grotesque stories, but I bristle against books where the author creates a whole new world with specialized jargon and societal rules, and that happened in every one of these stories. In the time that it takes to read one story, I just start to get used to the setting, and then it's over and I have to start again with a different kind of world. For example, the first story is about a family whose sister has committed a crime, and her punishment is to be slowly sunk into the tar pit. The next story is about a lord's wife who has run off with gypsies and the next is about clown killers. Yeah, clown killers. And all of them have special slang to interpret, which is tiring, one story after another.

Where the stories do work is that the reader gets little hints about what is going on and why. Lanagan spaces out the information so that first the family packs a picnic as if going on a day trip, then the sister starts to sink into the pits, then you find out why she's being executed. I appreciate the dark nature of "Black Juice," but I found the stories hard to relate to because I felt like I needed Lanagan's personal dictionary just to get my bearings. C+

"There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales" by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

I found this book at my local library by doing a search for fairy tales, then clicking the category "Slavic."

The first half of this book is mostly ghost stories. You know the type, the Vanishing Hitchhiker, Sixth Sense type of story where throughout the whole story someone has been dead and either they or their loved one doesn't know it. They all kind of end the same way. Plus they're set in Russia, so they're all pretty bleak apart from the whole death everywhere thing. Not to say they're not well written, just go out and get some sunshine afterward, okay? The section at the end, Fairy Tales, gets a little bit lighter and there's less death. This is a good story selection for someone who likes a bit of the supernatural in the real world, and who doesn't need a happy ending. Even if you don't know anything about the Soviet Union, you get the feeling that the characters are used to a life that doesn't treat them well or often, so a little supernatural harassment doesn't bother them. The author doesn't waste any time on "Oh no! A ghost!" and I appreciate that. B-


Caleb said...

That's a fair critique of "Black Juice." I just happen to enjoy the state of confusion her stories put me in.

If you feel like giving Lanagan another chance, her novel "Tender Hearts" has a similarly bizarre world and premise. A traumatized teenage girl living in horrible circumstances in a vaguely medieval world suddenly finds herself in an idealized reality. The novel primarily focusses on her daughters as they grow up. It's loosely based on Snow White and Rose Red, I guess. Anyway, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It is quite confusing at times, but as a novel, you get a bit more time to enjoy the world and characters once you figure out what is going on.

Caleb said...

And by "Tender Hearts," I actually mean "Tender Morsels"