This installment: storytelling packed with whimsy, philosophy, and political commentary (f); short stories featuring sex and pain (f); and London in the mid -1700s, where delusion leads to tragedy (f)
Winter by Ali Smith
She plops you right down into a nonlinear exploration: theories, lists, conjectures. But then a plot gradually develops. Art, a blogger whose ex, Charlotte, is blogging absurdities under his name to trash his reputation. He snags a girl on the street, Lux, to impersonate Charlotte so he doesn’t have to show up at the family Christmas gathering unaccompanied. (His mother Sophie has never met Charlotte.) But Sophie seems on a different plane altogether: communing with a floating head, making no preparation for guests. Lux who sometimes seems to be the only one with her head together, tells Art to call his estranged Aunt Iris and she shows up with food. We whip back and forth between eras, including the big antiwar demonstration in the ‘60s which Iris championed. Such a mix of whimsy, story, philosophy and political commentary. Kind of like a Christmas pudding: very tasty but sometimes a bit much.
Her Body and Other Parties: Short Stories by Carmen Marie Machado
Incredibly intense and full of sex (though not exactly sexy) and pain, woven together with fantasy, both classic and imaginative. Like the first tale in which all those scary campfire stories like Hook Hand and Don’t Untie the Ribbon come into play in a voice so matter of fact that you can almost believe the impossible. Others feature a demonic writers’ retreat that somehow gets mixed up with Girl Scouts, women who fade away to transparency, bariatric surgery, and more. Always on the edge of nightmare mixed with pleasure. Best read in small doses. Breathtaking and disturbing.
The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis
London, 1763, and Anne at 19 is not happy. Her baby brother died; there’s a new baby, Evelyn; her mother’s worn out; and her father is distant and tyrannical. The butcher boy, Fub, catches her fancy and she manages to connect with him applying lots of guile and determination. Not so fast, though: her father has creepy Mr. Onions in mind for her. Anne is utterly delusional about what her and Fub’s future together might be. Turns out Anne, unleashed, takes her murderous rage into action, and does so, thrice! No really sympathetic characters and Anne is truly a monster, but horror, fascination, and historical verisimilitude got me in their grip.
Back next week.