readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic – F. Brett Cox, ed.

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Definitely a higher quality of writing, overall, than found in many genre anthologies.

*** A Place of Mojo – Honoree Fanonne Jeffers. Impressive story, really well-written, and I felt like it accurately captured elements of Southern African-American society, just post-slavery. However, it’s really not ‘fantastic.’

**** The Wounded – Richard Butner. Shades of H.P. Lovecraft here, in this tale of a Korean War vet turned photography student, who unexpectedly discovers the dark secret of a remote seacoast town.

*** The Map to the Homes of the Stars – Andy Duncan. A couple of teen boys who never get a date are obsessed with driving past the homes of the girls they know from school; too shy to actually talk to them. But after one fateful night, one is left behind… An unsettling allegory of male coming-of-age.

**** Under Construction – James Sallis. A brief story of a future couple renting out a faux dilapidated dump of an apartment – and thinking it’s the most special thing ever. I read it twice in a row – it’s one of those pieces where the important things are off-screen. Effective.

*** Houston, 1943 – Gene Wolfe. A weird tale of a small boy unwittingly caught up in a voodoo ritual that’s somehow gotten out of hand. The treasure-seeking spell-casters are possessed themselves, and spirits from childhood tales are woven through this nightmare.

*** See My King All Dressed in Red – James L. Cambias. A seemingly-happy gay couple apparently have adjusted to life after having to move out of a flooded, abandoned New Orleans. But one of these men suffers an increasing obsession with Mardi Gras, the past, and the lost city.

*** My Life is Good – Scott Edelman. Alien ‘Visitors’ force a physicist to use a time machine to monitor and control the life of an inane pop singer. Is there some meaning behind this thankless job?

*** Rose – Brett Lott. Based on “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner. I don’t believe I’ve read the Faulkner story; I feel that one probably should, to appreciate this work. It is undoubtedly well written, although not one tiny bit fantastic. I’d classify this as psychological drama.

** Boar Lake – Mark L. Van Name. A group of old friends gather to mourn the imminent loss of the national park where they’ve shared time and memories. And then a mysterious and inexplicable event occurs. I’d probably prefer the story if it weren’t so very inexplicable.

*** The Mission – Jack McDevitt. A post-apocalyptic setting, and a philosophical argument between logic and emotion. Well-presented – I found myself seeing both characters’ point of view. I liked this better than the novels I’ve read from McDevitt.

*** The Moon and the Stars – Marian Carcache. An evil voodoo queen and a romantic tragedy.

*****The Specialist’s Hat – Kelly Link. A re-read. I love this: “Claire’s eyes are grey, like a cat’s fur, he says, but Samantha’s are gray, like the ocean when it has been raining.” YES! Everyone (but Kelly Link) thinks I’m a lunatic when I tell them that ‘grey’ and ‘gray’ are clearly different colors, and Link understands (and agrees with me) on the precise difference. Oh, and the story? It’s kick-ass, and spooky as hell. For anyone who likes children-stuck-in-haunted-houses tales.

** Christus Destitutus – Bud Webster. Christ returned to earth, but this time lived unannounced and anonymous. Now, he’s dying in a pauper’s hospice. Well done, but just not my thing…

** Ool Athag – Don Webb. Begins like a sword-and-sorcery type fantasy, and ends with crossing the line of artsy pretension. Had to roll my eyes.

*** The Yukio Mishima Cultural Association of Kudzu Valley, Georgia – Michael Bishop. A pretentious (and fired) ex-professor retires to a small hick town to lick his wounds – and inadvertently starts an obsessive craze for Yukio Mishima among the townsfolk. Bishop takes the concept past absurdity – and it’s pretty funny.

*** The Last Geek – Michael Swanwick. A commentary on the utter weirdness of academic appreciation of ‘low’ culture.

*** Slippered Feet – Daniel Wallace. An older couple are enthusiastically planning a vacation to an exotic location, and enjoying trying to learn a bit of the language in advance. But then, things start to go horribly wrong. Nice use of psychological ambiguity.

** Alabama – Kalamu Ya Salaam. Why is this in this book? It’s not fiction, and not even slightly fantastic. It’s (sort-of) an essay exploring murder, suicide and racism. I was going with it (and felt it had some decent insights) until the end, which abruptly tries to connect fictional media violence with actual violence, and human evil. Sorry Mr. Salaam, but if you’re going to go there, you’re going to have to condemn your own work, as it also contains violence and bloody death.

*** Madeline’s Version – F. Brett Cox. Like ‘Rose,’ this is a retelling-from-a-different-viewpoint, this time of Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’ The feel of the elements of the story as portrayed here remind me more of Tanith Lee than of Poe: a brother and sister living alone, incestuously, in a once-grand but decaying house. Illness, hints of a curse, maybe some kind of vampirism?

*** Tchoupitoulas Bus Stop – Lynn Pitts. OK, but this felt like every ghost story told late at night at a sleepover party that you’ve ever heard.

*** Water Dog God: A Ghost Story – Brad Watson. Not so much of a ghost story. More of a horror tale of rural hicks, abuse, incest and the tragedy of powerlessness.

** Mankind Journeys through Forests of Symbols – Fred Chappell. In this allegorical tale, a dream or an unfulfilled artistic urge and lead to inconvenient physical manifestations. When one of these manifestations blocks the road in a small town, the only solution is for the Sheriff’s office to hold a poetry contest.

*** The Mikado’s Favorite Song – Marian Moore. Newly promoted, a businesswoman learns that management has some unanticipated drawbacks.

*** The Perfecting of the Chopin Valse No. 14 in E Minor – Sena Jeter Naslund. A woman lives with her aging mother, but cannot emotionally follow her into the eerie yet somehow wonderful realms that the older woman seems to be moving toward. A metaphor for senility? Or something else?

*** Making Faces – Ian McDowell. An alterna-teen and her younger brother deal with emotional fallout and their father’s newly-found lunatic religiosity, after their mother’s death. When an ancient artifact enters the picture, a gory finale is in the works… pretty much straight-up horror.

*** John Kessel – Every Angel is Terrifying. A murderer on the lam acquires a cat that he seems to think grants wishes. Will he be able to turn his life around, or is hope an illusion? Another one for the horror fans.

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