book reviews by Althea

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Extremities – Kathe Koja ****

· “Arrangement for Invisible Voices”
· “The Neglected Garden”
· “Bird Superior”
· “Illusions in Belief”
· “Reckoning”
· “The Company of Storms”
· “Teratisms”
· “Angels in Love”
· “Waking the Prince”
· “Ballad of the Spanish Civil Guard”
· “Lady Lazarus”
· “The Disquieting Muse”
· “Queen of Angels”
· “Jubilee”
· “Pas de Deux”
· “Bondage”

Published in 1997, this is the only collection of Koja’s short fiction (many other short pieces remain un’collected’), and the last book she published as an adult-oriented horror writer. (Since then she has written five young-adult/children’s books).
I’ve said before, I find her decision to write children’s books – especially under the same name – mysterious, as her fiction in general, the stories in this book not excepted, is decidedly Not For Children – and not anything you’d want a kid to pick up accidentally, unless you want to seriously scar their psyche!
However Koja is definitely my favorite horror writer of all time. Her writing style is both casual and lyrically evocative, her images bizarre and surreal – but simultaneously gritty and firmly grounded in reality. Koja loves (or loved?) to deal, thematically, with the angst of art – her characters tend to be artists, writers, performers, usually of the struggling sort – financially, in their relationships with others, and with the traumas of the creative process itself. Whether psychologically tortured or interacting with the supernatural, they always seem like people I might have known – real people, but in these stories, as the title indicates, brought to the extremities…


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Zel – Donna Jo Napoli ****

I picked this up because it was on the “recommended” list at the back of one of Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow’s anthologies – and I’m very glad I did!
It’s a retelling of the story of Rapunzel, set in the 1500’s in Switzerland. While Napoli does not take out the more fantastic/magical elements of the story, she very much emphasizes the psychological elements of the story: the witch who demands a baby girl in return for the theft of her lettuce is not simply evil, but clings to her “adopted” daughter, Rapunzel, with a fierce and possessive “love,” which over the years grows more and more obsessively twisted, till it leads to her imprisoning her in an isolated tower, with terrible consequences for Zel’s sanity… The dynamic, as it is portrayed, is far too close to the reality of how many parents cling to their children (finding it hard to let them grow up, become independent, and find love on their own) to be comfortable reading. Although the book was marketed toward young teens, I found it to be one of the most disturbing (but also most romantic!) works I’ve read in quite a while.
Highly recommended for fans of Patricia McKillip.