Monday, March 24, 2014

The Weirwoods

by Thomas Burnett Swann

9361326the name of Thomas Burnett Swann's game is Pastoral Fantasy vs. Slowly Encroaching Civilization. the author wrote a good number of fantasy (and some science fiction) novels that took the old myths and legends as reality and pitted them against the gradual intrusion of industry, the city, the military, modernity in general. one of the delightful things about this author is his ability to make these myths real in their own strange, unreal way. his dryads and water sprites and centaurs and fauns are three-dimensional yet often utterly alien as well. although it is obvious which side Swann is on (and what fantasy author will ever side against fantasy anyway), he also illustrates his early civilizations with the same trappings of fantasy - these aren't the ancient civilizations of the classroom, they are cultures that have been made almost as mythical as the fantasy creatures who share their world. entering one of Swann's novels is entering an adult fairy tale; very little is familiar except for the familiarity we all have with myths & legends & ancient civilizations. these myths & legends have been given a compelling sexuality that is central to their mythology. this is definitely Sexy Fantasy: the sexuality manages at different times to be genuinely sensual and carnal yet also innocent - not dirty and not exploitative, sometimes disturbing and threatening, often deeply homoerotic (and honestly I wish he had been a bit more even-handed with the ladies), and just as often unintentionally silly - and silly in a rather dated, eye-rolling, but still amusing way. anyway, The Weirwoods is about water sprites and Etruscans, a terrible revenge, and how a traveling musician, a naïve city girl, and two deadly but weirdly attractive water sprites all cross paths. his prose is lovely and his story manages to feel languorous despite its brief length. it is a serious book and it is also often a really goofy book (especially in its second half, post-revenge). overall I quite liked it; it took me right into another world and I wanted to stay there longer than I was able. I'm looking forward to reading more by the author and I'm excited to reread the ones I read as a teen. they certainly inspired dozens of my own smutty fantasies. but also a longing for things long past and things that never were.

The Moorstone Sickness

by Bernard Taylor

Hal and Rowan flee the big city of London to settle in the beautiful, placid, and exceedingly friendly village of Moorstone; disturbing undercurrents eventually become stronger & stronger, and the almost-happy couple find that things are murky indeed beneath the town's lovely surface. there are some intriguing things going on under the surface of this novel as well: Bernard steeps his small bag of precisely-drawn, often ambiguously sympathetic characters into the opaque waters of immortality to see what particular flavors of forever will rise to the surface. who wants immortality and what price are you willing to pay for it? think not on such things - 'tis a sickness of both the body and the soul that you contemplate. 'tis the Moorstone Sickness!

there are no surprises here, neither in the supernatural mystery itself nor in what flavors comes to dominate by the end. still, despite showing its hand (inadvertently? hard to tell) so early that most of the suspense is stripped away, the book is a good one. polished and elegant prose, an often enigmatic narrative, interesting characterization, a well-developed background for the mystery, and a tone that is drily straightforward but also hits notes of an almost grim melancholy, laced with a subtly acidic wit. Taylor is a more than competent author and is distinctly underrated. if you are the sort who likes your horror to be restrained, subtle, thoughtful, and horrific in a quietly brooding way, then he is the author for you. overall I preferred Sweetheart, Sweetheart but this was still an intriguing and atmospheric experience.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tender Morsels

by Margo Lanagan

Snow White and Rose Red live with their mother in a cottage. upon them comes a bear, out of the cold, into their warmth and into their lives. he stays with them a bit; they become a sort of family, until he must go away. the girls meet a strange and irritable dwarf and save him several times. he is not grateful. later, the girls come between the dwarf and the now enraged bear. the unpleasant dwarf begs the bear to eat the girls rather than his little self. can the girls' sweet spirits get them out of this mess - are the girls able to survive? they can, and they will!

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a young girl's mother dies, and she is left with her horrible father in a cottage. she is repeatedly molested and impregnated by her father. it is important that you know this, that this is a part of the book and this is a part of life, for some. a young girl loses her father and is happy for a time. a group of boys come upon her, pull her down from the chimney where she has fled, and proceed to rape her. it is important that you know this, that this is a part of the book too and this is a part of life, for some. can this much-abused girl survive? she can, and she will.

2662169a woman writer named Margo Lanagan decided to write a book about women. she would make the book a portrait of a family of women, a family that grows bigger. she would make the book a portrait of motherhood and sisterhood and daughterhood, the challenges and the wonder and the excitement of becoming, of transforming into such roles. she would make this portrait of women a part of the greater world, so there are many voices heard, even voices of men, sympathetic men and strong, kind ones too. the book does not share the voices of those who are brutal and who destroy with their brutality; they are not worthy of having their voices heard and they are not missed. well, there is a certain voice, a harder voice: the dwarf. but his story is its own kind of tale, not the story of a brutal man but rather the story of a man small in stature and in spirit, an occasionally unkind man but not a brutal one, and one deserving of some sympathy. so this woman writer would take the fable of the sisters Snow White and Rose Red, their cottage and their mother and that dwarf and the bear-who-was-a-prince, as her template. men in the shape of bears and women in the shape of women. she would spin this tale out of prose that is light as gossamer, pliant as cotton, soft as flax, sturdy as wool. prose that sings; prose that whispers. can a woman do all these things in one book, tell all these tales, and still stay true to her goals and still stay true to the myth itself? she can, and she did.

I was once a residential counselor for runaway kids. one girl in particular, I remember her well, she came from a history of sexual abuse, like many others. she fled to the house where I worked. one night she went out wandering and upon her came a group of men. they raped this girl, this girl who had already suffered so much. was she broken though? she was, for a little while. but she came back, she healed, not completely because these kinds of wounds never heal completely, but she did heal. she was young and I know that this was still the beginning of her story. could she survive this beginning, could she survive and even thrive, one day? she could, and she did.

I thought of this girl quite a bit while reading Tender Morsels, her survival. the first 50 pages were exceedingly hard for me to read, for many others to read as well. sometimes these kinds of stories need to start hard. but they don't need to stay that way, only hard, they can expand and move beyond and transform, become something different, something more than atrocity, some bright and warm and ready to embrace those who have been hurt and who long for that bright warmth. can stories that start with such terrible things remain hard - even vengeful - while also growing softer, a soft side and a hard one, side-by-side, life is all sides, can a story juggle such things, even up until its very end? it can, and it did.