This is the kind of mythopoeic fiction I like. A collection of quite short stories, but they pack a lot in to their brief length.
“The Rose in Twelve Petals”
A fractured retelling of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (or, ‘Briar Rose’), in a dozen brief vignettes, set in a more concrete version of Europe than the usual fairy-tale fare.
“Professor Berkowitz Stands on the Threshold”
A not-very-successful professor and a French poet, both with hidden talents, are summoned by a mysterious figure to an interstitial place-between-the-worlds, and offered a choice. Why does the professor make the choice he does? I’m still not sure.
“The Rapid Advance of Sorrow”
A poetic, surreal piece on the theme of trying to have a relationship with a revolutionary.
“Lily, With Clouds”
Two sisters, long estranged. One conventional, the other the lover of artists. The latter’s terminal cancer brings them back together one last time. Closure or understanding may not be possible, but the meeting will leave its mark.
“Miss Emily Gray”
Emily Gray features in several of Goss’ stories – and I want more of her! I LOVE this morally ambiguous Mary Poppins figure who, here, shows up as a young girl’s governess – and grants wishes in a quite unexpected way.
“In the Forest of Forgetting”
This title story is actually probably my least favorite piece in the book. A fairy-tale allegory that is explicitly about a woman dying of cancer; I felt it would’ve been more effective if it were more subtle.
“Sleeping With Bears”
Another allegory, which compares men to bears – but this one is done with a deft touch, and wry humor.
“Letters from Budapest”
A spooky and lovely Hungarian vampire story about an undead artist who suck talented young men dry. Reminded me a bit of Tanith Lee.
“The Wings of Meister Wilhelm”
One of the more powerful pieces I’ve read about the tragedy of European anti-semitism, and a beautiful story of a young girl, her violin instructor, and his impossible dream.
Another Emily Gray story! Here, as a nurse, she’s a powerful if mysterious advocate for a young boy whose own family is trying to poison him.
“A Statement in the Case”
The ‘case’ is question is the possible arson of a pharmacy – and the witness in question admits that he was drunk and that he might not have seen exactly what he believes that he saw.
“Death Comes for Ervina”
An elderly former ballerina receives a visit from an old lover, and reminisces about her complicated past.
“I will tell you… that every fairy tale has a moral. The moral of my story may be that love is a constraint, as strong as any belt. And this is certainly true, which makes it a good moral. Or it may be that we are all constrained in some way, either in our bodies, or in our hearts and minds… Or perhaps my moral is that a desire for freedom is stronger than love or pity. That is a wicked moral, or so the Church has taught us. But I do not know which moral is the correct one. And that is also the way of a fairy story.” (And that is why I have realized that I love Theodora Goss.)
A truly creepy and horrific story about a monastery where all the monks are blind. Or maybe it is an inspiring and uplifting story of spiritual triumph. I’m picking the former, but others will probably think the latter.
“Pip and the Fairies”
‘Pip”s mother featured her as the title character in a series of books for children, which have made her a kind of minor celebrity, as the books have achieved a classic fame. But, thinking back, she wonders if the stories that she told her mother about her adventures with the magical folk were true…
“Lessons With Miss Gray”
Yay! Emily Gray again! Here, she offers three girls lessons in witchcraft. It’s their obsession, for a summer…