Jack came home...
Another stinkingly sticky day here. After (not-very-)strenuously sorting some papers at the kitchen table, I was so hot, sweat was dripping from the tip of my nose.
Because talking is hard enough without all those 'st's
In ten sharp tales, Lanagan pushes the short story form and the genre of fantasy to their limits.Aww, thanks, Joe!
The secret of Australian Lanagan has been out since her last collection, Black Juice (HarperCollins, 2004/VOYA April 2005), was a Printz Award Honor Book, and her new work shows no drop in quality. Lanagan excels in her trademark ability to synthesize a kind of fantasy that reaches into the dark corners of human life and love without becoming jaded. These stories are turgid with love, loss, hope, despair, and the sense that there must be more to the world than that which can be touched with hands. Such rich emotional content gives the stories broad appeal, but they are written with such a keen sense of craftsmanship that they also offer a rewarding challenge to advanced readers. Each story has a steep learning curve, as Lanagan drops the reader into a fully developed situation with as little explanation as she can. The reader learns, after two or three such stories, to read the opening pages carefully, with no assumptions about protagonist, plot, or even genre. The result is stories that unsettle and explore. They are a pleasure at every level.
I was disappointed by the last two chapters though. The second-to-last took a bizarre twist for the science fiction. It was written by Margo Lanagan, who I’ve never heard of. I had a very hard time understanding what was going on in her chapter at all though. Some of it was a different twist on Nick Hornby’s chapter, but I didn’t like it.The Maguire chapter comes in for a serve, too, though, so I'm not the only dud. And she still recommends the book—just stop at the end of the third-last chapter, people.
Along we went, in a bunch-ish, because of the witch. She sat halfway along the distance we needed to go, and exactly halfway between tideline and water, as if she meant to catch the lot of us. She had a grand pile of weed that she was knitting up beside her, and another of blanket she had already made, and the knobs of her iron needles jittered and danced as she made more, and the rest of her was immovable as rocks, except her swivelling head, which watched us, watched the sea, swung to us again.All the mams are selkies. It's a very sad story—surprise, surprise.
‘Oh,’ breathed James. ‘Maybe we can come back later.’
‘Come now, look at this catch,’ I said. ‘We will just gather all up and run home and it will be done. Think how pleased your mam will be! Look at this!’ I lifted one; it was a doubler, one sea-heart clammed upon another like hedgehogs in the spring.
Typical of Lanagan’s work, ‘She-Creatures’ was well-written and sustained by a distinctive voice throughout. Traditional colonial/gothic horror tropes were well utilised and highlighted the male paranoia regarding female sexuality as related through the faerie encounter and supported by the protagonist’s relationship with his wife. The use of humour and interior monologue carried the suspense to the end.Colonial? Hmm, been a while since Devon was colonised, I think.
Aside from the fact that many of the protagonists herein are youths, I'm not sure about the need or accuracy of pitching Lanagan's complex, resonant, mature fables in this fashion. True, any bright, sensitive teen will immediately latch on to these emotive tales like a free-falling person snatching a parachute. But these are the kind of high-quality stories that will vibrate the nerves and heartstrings of readers of all ages.And he-says-he-says:
Lanagan is one of those rare writers of miniaturist intensity who is forging a name and career solely on her short fiction. A novel from her is much anticipated.Novel's on its way, Paul.
At a certain point my breathing quieted and the night breeze eased to the point where the low noise issuing from my lady’s [tower] window reached me. That rooted me to the meadow-ground more firmly, her near-inhuman singing, her crooning, broken now and then with grunts and gutturals, something like triumphant laughter. I have often been thought a witch myself, with my ugly looks and my childbedding, but I tell you I have never evoked any such magic as streamed off that fine horse in the night, fainting me with its scent and eluding my eye with its gleams and glitters, the shifting and shivering of its muscles under its moonlit hide. I have never cast such a spell as trailed out that window on my mistress’s, my charge’s song, if song it were, that turned my bones to sugar ice, I tell you, my mind to sweet syrup and my breath to perfume.And the ending just fell out, beautifully paced, and making my (3rd) narrator blossom in several different directions.
For me, a book—whether I'm reading it or writing it—needs to do something a little different as it approaches the halfway point, to up the ante and subvert some expectation I've developed along the way. I can feel a writer spinning his wheels, building fake suspense (or sticking slavishly to some preconceived outline) and the momentum deflates, leaving me high and dry with a book I couldn't give a shit about. I'd always rather have the writer seem to go a little mad at the midway point, seeming to risk more than is actually advisable, and when this happens I feel a familiar thrill of recognition. As a writer I've been there plenty of times, that moment when your toes no longer touch the bottom and you actually panic a little before heading instinctively toward what's next. It's the books that hug the shore and do what's expected that I usually end up letting drift away...There's just too much out there that I'd rather read.(From The Scary Parent.)
‘And up goes the window and the wind comes in, smack!, straight from the South Pole I tell you, Nonny, and a little thing like Tasmania was never going to get in its way! It took the breath out of me, for certain. The room was an icebox like that.’ She snaps her dry fingers. ‘But you would think it was a…a zephyr, a tropical breeze, for all it stops Ashman. I will fly! he says, I will fly! And he pushes the sash right up and he’s hands either side the window and his foot up on the sill. With the greatest of ease!’Today I spent researching the steampunk story, which is more clockwork than steam at this point.
Here Dulce stops and looks crafty. ‘And now I must fill my pipe,’ she says calmly.
is with letters,And then there is this part where she reworks that Frost poem in a way that, were I a punching-the-air type of person...
with secret letters.
Letters that were not written
she must write them
over, and over, and over.
I came to a placeAnd this is how it finishes, after having talked a lot about waking up in the morning and starting to have ideas and put words together:
I couldn't see well in the darkness,
where the road turned
and divided, it seemed like,
going different ways.
I was lost.
I didn't know which way.
it looked like one roadsign said To Town
and the other didn't say anything.
So I took the way that didn't say.
'I don't care,' I said,
'I don't care if nobody ever reads it!
I'm going this way.'
And I found myself
in the dark forest, in silence.
You maybe have to find yourself,
in the dark forest.
Anyhow, I did then. And still now,
The Writer On Her Work:*snort, wallow*
I see her, too, I see her
lying on it.
lying, in the morning early,
Trying to convince herself
that it's a bed or roses,
a bed of laurels,
or an innerspring mattress,
or anyhow a futon.
But she keeps twitching.
There's a lump, she says.
like a rock—like a lentil—
I can't sleep.
the size of a split pea
that I haven't written.
That I haven't written right.
I can't sleep.
She gets up
and writes it.
is never done.