Monday, October 20, 2014

Reviewish: Love & Other Poisons - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I don't know why I waited so long to read work by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Honestly and truly. There wasn't any particular reason I put it off - I've know about her through Lovecraftian community associations for a while. I've followed/associated with her on Facebook since the Ladies & Squids conversation in a FB group spawned the clarion call for ladies writing in weird fiction to get a spotlight shone on them.

In fact, I'm exceedingly excited about the project that came out of that discussion: She Walks In Shadows - An all-woman Lovecraft anthology - the first, even. (I couldn't decide which link to use, so I thought I'd use the four most prominent/important links that will provide information on the project.)

Since then, I've dragged my feet in seeking out and devouring new fiction. My Reviewish posts represent a long-running backlog of reading - though not the only reading I'm doing (never mind the academia stuff) - that really got me excited about authors who were new-to-me. Silvia gets added to this list.

Sometimes I feel ashamed in going for offers of free books for reviews, but it's really the only way I can 'afford' to explore new authors. I'm a college student with 3 very flimsy and irregular part time jobs. My food budget for 1-2 weeks is what most people spend on a cheap dinner out. So, when Silvia posted that she was willing to give out a copy of her short story collection Love & Other Poisons in exchange for a review, I was more than happy to oblige.

I didn't know what to expect, but I was looking forward to the discovery of it all. I was not disappointed.

I will start by saying that the book itself - I read the electronic format - is well done. The cover art is lovely, and I only found a couple of places where there may or may not have been minor typos (they were so minor that I only remember they existed, not where they were. I should go back and make notes and forward those back to the author/publisher in case they want to fix them).

I read the collection on the bus and was so enthralled with it that a complete stranger tapped me on the shoulder to ask what I was reading. This has never happened to me before. It's true, though, I was enthralled.

Right out of the gate, the stories don't fall into too-familiar archetypes. They don't all follow the expectations we get for short stories from our mountains of literature or creative writing courses. What do they do? They weave a moment of time, a series of events, into a mural that stands out and stands up against the mundanity in which they exist. (Though I'd argue that some of the worlds the author presents through these stories are anything but mundane, even if you are steeped in fantastical literature.)

One theme that spoke strongly to me and I thus saw repeated was that of escaping with a "magical" companion. Don't read 'magical' literally - though you could. (That's a part of the allure of the collection on the whole - the promise and lure that something could be taken as so much more than it is, or that you can take at face value.)

My favorites:
"Man in Blue Overcoat"
"Shedding  Her Own Skin"
"Distant Deeps or Skies"
"A Puddle of Blood"

These four stories interestingly contain an equal balance of staying and leaving, and being tempted away from one's regular life.  But it's not quite temptation; in at least a couple cases, it is an opportunity for escape.

I wonder if Theresa ever accepts the offer of the nahual.

Honorable Mentions:
"Kaleidoscope" - the theme here is other lives. This story resounded with me as this is a scenario I've conjured in my mind in relation to particular people in my life. If it's nothing you've experienced, you might not connect the same way to the story.
"Enchantment" - oddly enough, this is the story I was reading when the stranger on the bus interrupted me. It's about self-narratives and the people around us who might choose to play the roles we've assigned them, and what happens when we ruin our own stories by pushing too hard, lingering too long in a moment.
"A Handful of Earth" - can't knock a callback to Dracula and what happens to his 'brides' when he's gone away.  It's a look into the evolution of a vampire, and what that story might look like from the inside.

I could go on and on about almost every story in the collection. There's nothing bad for me to say about any of them. Some I obviously liked more than others, but I didn't dislike any of them. I didn't find any of them particularly "weak" and none of them felt like filler. Though my experience is admittedly sparse when it comes to single-author short story collections, this one stands as a very solid example. It is likely to be the standard against which I judge other single-author collections going forward.

Many of these stories crafted worlds I wanted to explore beyond their boundaries. That is the beauty of a well wrought short piece; being able to tell a story in the context of a whole other world that makes sense, and to make it feel as though there is a whole wide, fleshed-out world behind it. It leaves you wanting more but not unsatisfied. Silvia Moreno-Garcia nails it.

I'm looking forward to picking up more of her work.

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