This month in prose:
The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories — Mehvesh Murad & Jared Shurin(eds) (2017)
A collection of new and traditional tales of the Djinn. Several of these are excellent. One is a commonly reprinted bit of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods where the Djinn is a taxi driver. Other stories range from the traditional, to poetry, to ones set in modern Islam. There are also a couple of pretty terrific future world/Sci-Fi stories. The range of stories and versions of the djinn in Islamic folklore is amazing. Happily this book is far from a bunch of white folks riffing on someone else’s culture. Also it has one of the highest rations of good stories to meh stories in any multiple author collection that I have read in the last three years.
* eclectic can be a fabulous thing. *
The Thirteenth Tale — Diane Setterfield (2006)
Another twins story. The writer Vida Winter has told a thousand and two stories about her origins, all untrue and most fantastic. But now at the end of her life she decides that she will tell one biographer the truth. Her chosen biographer is Margaret Lea, a reticent bookworm who lives above her father’s antiquarian book shop. At the end of their initial interview Ms. Lea announces her only condition for the work: that Ms. Winter only the truth. The truth in this case is at least as fantastic as any of the stories that the author has told to previous interviewers.
There are secrets on top of secrets and misdirections and … in spite of it all you feel for both the talker and the listener while this eerie and tragic tale unfolds. With a wholly satisfactory, though not quite inevitable, twist at the end. Well written enough to make the story paramount.
* good, though I think I might be done with tragic twins for a while *
Rabbit Cake — Annie Hartnett (2017)
“A new novel about the grieving process” is absolutely not a tag line that would make me pick up a book. But once in a while Amazon gets the “If you liked A you might like B” thing right and throws a book that you would otherwise not consider into your pile. So I read the sample. And then I read the book. Because… what if you were an almost 12-year-old, and what is your name was Elvis, (and what of it if you’re a girl with a boy’s name,) and what if you have a weirdly fact filled head, and what if your mother drown while sleepwalking (actually sleep-swiming), and what if you know that you should be grieving but you aren’t sure you’ve doing it right? That’s a lot of “what-ifs” to find in the first 10% — the Amazon sample length — of a book. Enough what-ifs to make me want to spend time in the head of this wonderfully odd-ball 12-year-old.
* what-if you ignored the blurbs and just read the book *
Sharks in the Rivers — Ada Limon (2010)
Yes, there are sharks here. Free swimming, clearly, and decidedly out-of-place. Things in places where they don’t quite belong are the subjects of these poems. And often the thing that doesn’t quite belong is the writer herself.
* things that are out-of-place are more interesting that things that are where they belong *
This Big Fake World: A Story in Verse — Ada Limon (2006)
Stories in verse are something that I would usually run away from. They tend to be too much about the story and not enough about the poems themselves. These are different. Each poem stands on it’s own and advances the narrative at the same time. Prodigious work. Our protagonist — the man in the grey suit, the unreciprocating object of his affections — the hardware store lady, his rather incoherent friend Lewis and the object of Lewis’s epistolary obsession, Ronald Reagan wander through the their days and interact — each with each other and their own desires and obsessions.
* letters to RR maybe the oddest thing I’ve seen in a poem recently *