No one is innocent, no one unexamined in award-winner Elizabeth Hand's new collection. From the summer isles to the mysterious people next door all the way to the odd guy one cubicle over, Hand teases apart the dark strangenesses of everyday life to show us the impossibilities, broken dreams, and improbable dreams that surely can never come true.
“Ten evocative novellas and stories whisper of hidden mysteries carved on the bruised consciousness of victims and victimizers. Memories and love are as dangerous as the supernatural, and Hand often denies readers neat conclusions, preferring disturbing ambiguity. The Hugo-nominated “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” marries science fiction and magical realism as three men recreate a legendary aircraft’s doomed flight for a dying woman. A grieving widow in “Near Zennor” unearths a secret of spectral kidnapping in an ancient countryside. “Hungerford Bridge,” a lesser piece, shares a secret that can only be enjoyed twice in one’s life. Celtic myth and human frailty entangle in the darkly romantic “The Far Shore.” The vicious nature of romantic love is dissected with expressionistic abandon in the dreamlike “Summerteeth.” Hand’s outsiders haunt themselves, the forces of darkness answering to the calls of their battered souls. Yet strange hope clings to these surreal elegies, insisting on the power of human emotion even in the shadow of despair. Elegant nightmares, sensuously told.”
And here's what I thought: I was familiar with this author's other book of stories, Saffron and Brimstone, and have read and re-read some of those stories numerous times. I also really liked her book, Illyria, and have copies of Waking the Moon and Generation Loss on my bookshelves, waiting to be read at some point.
I didn't love all of the stories in this book, and oddly enough, liked the stories in the second half of it more than in the first half. The thing I like about Elizabeth Hand's storytelling is that, especially with her short stories, you're never really sure what you're going to get. A story can start out pretty ominously, and then turn out to be more thoughtful than scary. A different story can start out in an innocent-seeming way, only to take a really dark turn halfway through. It definitely keeps you on your toes, as a reader.
If you're new to Elizabeth Hand's writing, starting with short stories isn't a bad idea; that way, you can try a few shorter things to see how you like them. Out of this particular book of stories, I recommend The Return of the Fire Witch and Winter's Wife.
Some of the writing I liked: From The Return of the Fire Witch -- Paytum disdained magic to enhance her own charms, though she had for many decades employed the Nostrum of Prodigious Regeneration to retain the dew of youth. She remained a remarked beauty. Like her neighbor,she was flame-haired, though Paytim's braid was brazen tigerlily to Saloona's pale marigold, and Paytim's eyes were green. Her skin was the bluish-white of weak milk and bore numerous scars where she had been burned while conjuring, repairing the bouche a feu or carelessly removing a pot from the oven. The scars were a mark of pride rather than shame; also a warning against overconfidence, in particular when dealing with souffles, or basilisks.
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