Tag Archives: Stories
Play The Monster Blind by Lynn Coady
Vintage Canada, Toronto, 2001
From my TBR pile.
This is a collection of short stories, linked by characters, family histories and location. It is the first time I have read Lynn Coady, an author and playwright from Nova Scotia who now lives in Edmonton, Alberta.
Reading these stories felt like walking barefoot over gravel, sharp and painful, wanting to hurry and get into cool grass. Coady is an insightful writer, exploring the dynamics of family and community in a small town.
Anyone who has lived in a small town, particularly as an adolescent, knows the feeling Coady expresses in her stories. Gossip, back-biting, bullying, the need to fit in and the need to escape.
…When you think about people gossiping, you think about everyone sitting around and talking and talking until it makes everyone sick, but that’s not really how it works at all. All it takes is one sentence every couple of days, a passing remark or a joke. And then that person and all that is wrong with them is riveted inside your skull and if anyone ever says their name around you it triggers all the remarks and jokes in a flood – that’s what you think of when you think of them. That’s how it works. From The Ice-Cream Man, page 36.
And there’s that closed in feeling of not getting anywhere as an adult, of giving in, and giving up. There are also those people who escape small towns and then find themselves drawn back, for a funeral or a wedding or because life is just too difficult “out there”.
I know, this sound depressing, but Lynn Coady’s abilities bring a sharp humor to these stories and make even the most unlikable character understandable. Some of the stories focus on girls growing up and women who blame themselves for the state of their families and the state of the world. This made me angry but I found that while Coady shines a light into some dark corners, she does so with compassion.
Ecco, New York, 2010
Borrowed from the library.
I do not often read short stories and am not sure how to review them. Last year I read Ron Rash’s novel, Serena, and loved it. When I saw this collection on the new book shelf at the library I had to pick it up and bring it home.
This collection ranges through time from the Civil War era to the present. Rash writes in pared down language, clear and crisp as a mountain stream. The stories are based in the landscape of Appalachia and filled with the people who are part of that landscape, so much a part that they often can not leave, even if they want to.
Poverty, drugs and violence run through many of these stories, but the characters show a strength that has to do with long history, love of family and love of place. Some are disturbing, some are lyrically beautiful. This is wonderful collection.
Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories by Simon Van Booy
Harper Perennial, New York, 2009
Borrowed from my library.
Often when I read a story collection I will devour two or three at a time, like some snack i can’t stop eating. Simon Van Booy’s stories are like a velvety rich Creme Brule. I could only have one and then savored it over days until I was ready for the next.
These stories are about people finding love in many forms, sometimes when they least expect it. The writing is dreamy and lyrical, the stories strange and sometimes sad, perfect for dark rainy afternoons curled up with a hot cup of tea.
I wasn’t sure what to write about this book because it strikes me as very personal, I’m sure each reader, if they enjoy these stories at all, will be deeply touched at some level. I was.
In September, 2009, Love Begins in Winter won the Frank O’Connor Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection.
A different kind of ghost story written by Robert S. Hichens. Hichens, the author of The Garden Of Allah , was born in 1864 and died in 1950. He was Oscar Wilde’s confidant and a friend of the young Somerset Maugham. He is most famous for this strange tale, selected by Dorothy L. Sayers for her anthology of detective, mystery and horror stories.
Two very different men, one a priest, the other a scientist and researcher, become friends.
Dull people often wondered how it came about that Father Murchison and Professor Guildea were intimate friends. The one was all faith, the other all scepticism.
These two discover an instant intimacy that surprises them both. They share dinners and long philosophical discussions about human behavior, faith and rationalism. Then, one cool evening, everything changes for Professor Guildea and Father Murchison is forced to witness an unexplainable decline.
Father Murchison suddenly remembered the first evening he had spent with Guildea, and the latter’s expression of disgust, at the idea of receiving warm affection from anyone. In the light of the long-ago conversation, the present event seemed supremely strange, and almost like a punishment for an offence committed by the Professor against humanity. But, looking up at his friend’s twitching face, the Father resolved not to be caught in the net of his hideous belief.
Is Guildea going mad? Is his house haunted? If so, it is a very unusual kind of ghost. Hichens’s writing is dense and descriptive, the dialogue between these two men is perfect in tone. They hold each other at a distance but admire and like each other. This makes the ending to this story even more disturbing. Sayers spoke of the “delirious nausea” it provoked in her. I agree with that sentiment, the story is chilling. After learning a bit about Hichens’ friendships with Wilde and Maugham, I find the story of this relationship even more intriguing.
How Love Came to Professor Guildea comes from a fabulous anthology called Black Water: The Book of Fantastic Literature, edited by Alberto Manguel and published by Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. in 1983. I cribbed the bits about Hichens from Manguel’s short biography of the author.
I discovered Robert Aickman quite by accident. Years ago, while wandering through a used bookstore in Long Beach, California, I picked up a paperback called “The Wine Dark Sea” and opened it to the first pages. Twenty minutes later I found myself in a comfy, rather tattered, leather chair deep in the recesses of the store, having no idea how I’d gotten there.
The Houses of the Russians is from a collection of “strange stories” called Painted Devils, first published in 1964. A group of English fishery scientists, students and economists are at a conference in the country. Sitting in a local pub one evening they watch as their oldest colleague barely escapes being run over while crossing the busy road that runs through the village. One of the fishery experts offer to buy the shaken old man a drink. This begins a tale that takes place many years before in a small town in Finland and “a visible symbol of invisible grace”.
As a young man our storyteller had traveled to Finland with his employer. Their job, to find a house for an busy industrialist. Wondering through the villiage of Unilinna the young man discovers a footbridge to an island. The island is wooded and he can see several large houses, seemingly abandoned. He crosses the bridge, walks up a path and comes to a building.
Normally, I should have supposed the house to be empty, but it was not so. There was a fence around the garden, a heavy wooden paling, something with the weight and solidity of the wooden railing across the footbridge. Even so, there were gaps in it, and there was also a gate, which was lower than the rest of the fence. I had been creeping along the fence looking through the gaps, but it was across the top of the gate that I saw a woman sitting among the tall grass and in all that mist. She was not a young girl, but she had very fair hair, tied up at the back of the head. She wore a loose brown dress and she was doing something with a machine of some kind, not spinning but possibly weaving, or possibly something quite different.
I find Aickman’s stories very subtle. He was a master of description. His use of commonplace settings, everyday events and ordinary interactions builds an atmosphere that is unexpected and utterly eerie. The man wrote nightmares. There are scenes from some of his stories that are stuck in my head, even after twenty years. Maybe not a good thing but, to me, quite marvelous. If you are curious several collections of his stories have been reissued by Faber and Faber. You can find them on the internet.
The Water Poet and The Four Seasons by David J. Schwartz is a short, sweet, lyrical story about traveling through the seasons, writing poems, and love. The poet, commissioned to write poems for each season, lives a full life during a year before passing on the job to another. It is like the pagan round of the King, with birth, childhood, marriage, children, the mellowing of old age and death happening in a compressed period of time. There is an acorn, and an oak tree.
Of course, being a water-poet, the poems are all about weather, spring showers, cold drizzle storms and snow.
“Summer has a list inside a waterproof sleeve. “Three dozen thunderstorms, eleven with tornadoes. Sixteen sun showers sonnets. Hail the size of robin eggs.”
Schwartz has fun with alliteration, never heavy handed, just enough to bring a chuckle. I enjoyed this story and, not being familiar with the author, will look up, and read his other work.
A story from Tatterhood and other Tales edited by Ethel Johnstone Phelps, published by The Feminist Press, 1978. This story is a tale from the Punjab region of India, was is adapted by Lenora Alleyne Lang and appeared in Andrew Lang’s Olive Fairy Book. .
Kupti and Imani tells a tale of two very different sisters, the daughters of a great king. One day the king asks the princesses if they are satisfied to leave their lives and fortunes in his hands and he receives two very different answers.
Kupti, surprised at the question, says “In who’s hands would I leave them, if not yours?” Imani says “No, Indeed. If I had the chance I would make my own fortune.” The king, displeased with her answer tells Imani that she is too young to know the meaning of her words. In his anger he grants her wish.
The king gives Imani to an old, crippled beggar as a servant and theygo to live in his tumble-down hut “which was bare except for an old bedstead, two old cooking pots and an earthen jug for water, and one can not get much comfort out of such things.” Imani develops a plan and, taking the old man’s last penny, she buys some oil and some flax. With the oil she massages the beggar’s crippled leg, with the flax, on a borrowed wheel and loom, she spins and weaves a fine cloth. Her care of the beggar heals his leg and her hard work brings them a small fortune in gold.
As the story develops Imani shows industry, wisdom and even develops healing powers. Unlike most of the women in the folktales I grew up with she is a strong, kind, caring and wise heroine.
I love to read this book to 1st and 2nd year elementary students. We always have great discussions afterwards!
Red as Blood by Tanith Lee.
From The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women, edited by A. Susan Williams and Richard Glyn Jones, Penguin, 1995.
A retelling of Snow White with a unique twist. The Witch Queen is deeply religious and is concerned about Bianca, daughter of the first queen. Bianca does not like mirrors, in fact, the Queen’s magic mirror does not even see Bianca. Binca will not accept a golden crucifix nor will she walk among white roses. There is huntsman, and seven dwarfs and, in the end, a prince riding a white horse.
This tale is strange, dark and very well written. Find it if you can.