Deal Me In, Week 24 ~ “Bog Girl”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Bog Girl” by Karen Russell

Card picked: 4
Found at: The New Yorker

I don’t remember if I recognized Karen Russell when I added this story to my deck. Her novel Swamplandia! has been on the periphery of my TBR-eventually list. In this case, Swamplandia! will probably be bumped up the queue. One of the best reasons to read short stories is to get a taste for a writer you’re not familiar with.

The young turf-cutter fell hard for his first girlfriend while operating heavy machinery in the peatlands.

The girl that Cillian, the turf-cutter, falls for is a bog girl, a preserved corpse thousands of years old.

I’ve read a couple of magical realism novels this year and I was once again thrown into a off-kilter world where Bog Girl retains her slightly blue skin, coppery hair, and enigmatic smile  despite being exposed to the air. Also, Cillian is allowed to take her home. His mother isn’t pleased.  She’s afraid that Cillian will screw up his young life over the love of a girl, though instead of getting her pregnant, what if he decides to do something rash like going to the bog with her to stay?

Everyone else is pretty chill with Cillian’s silent girlfriend. She becomes rather popular at his high school. The in-crowd girls like her because she’s thin and will wear anything they give her. In fact, one of the things that Cillian like most about her is that she will silently, and smilingly, agree with his future plans.

Of course, everything changes one night when Bog Girl wakes up…

The writing is beautiful. While this story is sometimes uncomfortable, it doesn’t reach the level of unease that a Joyce Carol Oates story might.

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Review ~ The Doctor and the Kid

Cover: The Doctor and the Kid

The Doctor and the Kid by Mike Resnick

Welcome to a West like you’ve never seen before! With the O. K. Corral and the battle with the thing that used to be Johnny Ringo behind him, the consumptive Doc Holliday makes his way to Deadwood, Colorado. But when a gambling loss drains his bankroll, Doc aims for quick cash as a bounty hunter. The biggest reward? Young, 20-year-old desperado known as Billy the Kid. With a steampunk twist on these classic characters, nothing can be as simple as it seems. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I was walking through the library and was waylaid by a “If you like West World, try…” shelf. Now, I like westerns. I don’t read many of them, but it’s a genre I like. I *want* to like the sub-genre of  weird west and I *want* to like steampunk, but I’ve often been burned by those. I’ve also somewhat sworn off books that have too many fictional versions of real people. So, why-oh-why did I check out this book?

The cover. Yep. I figured the Doctor was Doc Holliday and I didn’t know I wanted Doc “the Lunger” Holliday tricked out with steampunk gear. I read a few pages before I checked it out and it didn’t offend.

What Worked
The plot was okay, though it felt a little drawn out. Honestly, the weird west and steampunk elements worked pretty well. Better than any of the other books of these genres I’ve read. I think this was probably because it was a western first and didn’t go *too* overboard with the trappings. Yeah, there’s the problem of outfitting a town with technology without infrastructure, but…

What Didn’t Work
…no, actually that bugged me, but that wasn’t the biggest problem here.

Man, the dialog.

There’s a rule in writing that info-dumps are a no-no. I would argue that it depends on the size of the info-dump (usually). If it’s too big and dry, in the middle of fast-paced plot, that’s probably a problem. If it’s not that big of an info-dump… You know, characters *do* have to explain things to each other sometimes. And that’s okay. In the case of The Doctor and the Kid, info-dumps are handled through strings of dialog.

There are a lot of instances of Character A saying something and Character B asking “What’s that?” Character A gives a small explanation, but then Character B asks a variation of “What’s that?” Which leads Character A to give the second part of the answer. But Character A‘s explanation would have only been three or four sentences in the first place. This probably isn’t a problem once, but it’s every time, every character, on multiple subjects. It got tedious. Which I would guess is what Resnick was trying to avoid.

Overall
You know, I read the whole book. It frustrated me at times, but it was a quick, sometimes fun read. It pointed out something to me that I want to avoid in my writing, And it had a steampunk Doc Holliday and a great cover.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Pyr, 2011
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: weird west, steampunk

hosted by Nick @ One Catholic Life

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

 

Deal Me In, Week 22 ~ “Fable”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Fable” by Charles Yu

Card picked: 5
Found at: The New Yorker

So, I’m fairly certain that I picked this story due to Tom Gauld’s illustration. (Check out the above link for it, or more of his work at his webpage. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably familiar; I retweet him quite a bit.) Halfway through “Fable” I thought, “This story reminds me of what I consider the difference between YA and other adult fiction: YA asks, “What am I going to do?” and adult fiction asks, “What have I done?” And towards the end of the piece I thought, “Wait a minute. Charles Yu. Have I read other stories by him?”

As a matter of fact, I’ve read a whole collection by Charles Yu! And I enjoyed it! I just have a really bad memory. And rereading my review I thought the very same thing about those stories as I did this one. Charles Yu has a really good ear for telling stories to and about Generation X—a group raised on geek culture, who are reaching middle age.

Once upon a time, there was a man whose therapist thought it would be a good idea for the man to work through some stuff by telling a story about that stuff.

“Fable” is a about the stories we want to tell about ourselves and what our stories really are. The man in this story has made many compromises to have a comfortable life for his wife and for his special needs son. The metaphor of the fairy tale he uses doesn’t go far, but maybe it does lead him to a path through his own haunted woods.

Review ~ The Hermit

Cover via Goodreads

The Hermit by Monica Friedman

The Sonoran Desert is full of life, but that doesn’t mean it won’t kill you.

Kaija Mathews doesn’t want to talk to anyone, ever, so she’s hiding in a cave in the desert all alone. Or, she would be all alone if fifteen years of deep meditation beside a magic spring hadn’t cursed her with the ability to converse with animals. The other creatures always respected her privacy, until the massacres began. Suddenly, she can’t get rid of the local fauna and their stories of an insatiable monster that kills without ceasing, leaving an unearthly stench in its wake. Only a holy woman, they say, can defeat it. Kaija’s no saint, but if she’s ever to enjoy her solitude again, she’ll have to play along.

Worse, she’ll need to face the challenges of the world she abandoned, obstacles like her nightmare of an ex-husband, and a drifter half her age who feels like a sweet dream. To do battle with a bulletproof monster straight out of North American mythology, Kaija must learn what it means to stare down fear, when to fight, and most of all, how to answer hatred with love. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
K. J. Kabza recommended this book. Dang it, he’s a good writer and he has good taste…

What Worked
First off, content warning: there are spiders in this book. Yes, there are also coyotes, packrats, javelina, and even a creosote bush with personality, but there are also spiders. Many, many spiders. Friedman works many Native American myths and lores into this story and one of them is Spider Grandmother. Despite my problems with spiders, I got through it. In fact, there are a few times when Brown (a brown recluse) adds some deeply funny dark humor to the proceedings.

The pace of this story is rather slow, and that’s okay. It fits. Even in the cities, the desert isn’t a fast place. The stories, Kaija’s, Little Brother’s, the monster’s, all unspool gradually. And stories are very important to this narrative. Kaija, a librarian before she was a hermit, gains knowledge when she learns to listen to stories again. Kaija’s character arch is also long. She resists change for most of the book, believing that she’s living her best life rather than just hiding. Oh, and kudos for the pairing of a middle-aged woman with a younger man. I do love Peter S. Beagle, but his older-men/younger-women plots are getting old.

I love books with a strong sense of setting and, while being transported to somewhere else is often nice, I also enjoy reading about the places I am more familiar with. This book is set in Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. I’m not a camper or a hiker, but we’ve driven through the desert many times and I find that I do love its beauty and its harshness in my own city-girl kind of way.

What Didn’t Work
There was a level of wrap-up at the end of the book that felt weird to me. The resolution involves magical elements overlapping with dead-serious real elements. I kept expecting the mythological to sort of fade out of the story or not be seen by the “real.” End of the day, the monster, Eagirl, killed people. While her mystery is solved, there are still…dead people. And that gets sort of ignored by the police who are involved at the end. Would I be happier if I was given some “all a dream” type explanation? No, probably not. I don’t know a way around it.

Overall
I enjoyed this book. Often, my continued reading (or even watching, in the case of TV and movies) comes down to the answers to two questions: Is this setting somewhere I want to be? Are these characters people I want to spend time with? When the answer is yes to both, I’m a happy (city-girl) camper.

Random trivia: I didn’t realize until after I finished The Hermit, but Monica Friedman and I have stories in the same issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly!

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Brother Wolf Press, 2016
Acquired: Amazon, 12/16/16
Genre: fantasy, fairy tale, magical realism

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Deal Me In, Week 21 ~ “Freedom is Space for the Spirit”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Freedom is Space for the Spirit” by Glen Hirshberg

Card picked: 10
Found at: Tor

Sometimes, I come across works by my favorite authors and, instead of reading them immediately, I squirrel them away for some later date. This explains a goodly portion of my unread library. I’ve had this story in reserve since 2016 and a good thing too. Glen Hirshberg’s writing pace is lagging behind my ability to consume his works.

From Tor’s website:

“Freedom is Space for the Spirit” by Glen Hirshberg is a fantasy about a middle-aged German, drawn back to Russia by a mysterious invitation from a friend he knew during the wild, exuberant period in the midst of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Upon his arrival in St. Petersburg, he begins to see bears, wandering and seemingly lost.

I’m most appreciative of Hirshberg’s horror stories and I was concerned that this would be very different than the usual. It’s set in Russia, in St. Petersburg. It’s also on the fantasy end of things. Or maybe it’s what’s considered magical realism. But, then, isn’t magical realism just a dark hop-skip away from supernatural horror?

There is always desolation in Hirshberg’s stories and a felling about the past that isn’t quite nostalgia. In these respects, “Freedom” is still so much a Hirshberg story, but one that is a double mystery too.  There is a lot to unpack on an allegorical level too, especially the concept of the resurrected past never quite working out. That’s not even taking into account Russia’s political past and present. But for me, this is a good unsettling fantasy and that’s how I enjoyed it this time I read it. Next time (and there will be a next time), who knows?

Review ~ A Dirty, Wicked Town

Cover via Goodreads

A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tales of 19th Century Omaha by David L. Bristow

Omaha, Nebraska, is a laid-back city in America’s heartland. In the nineteenth century, however, it had a very different reputation. Omaha grew from a speculative scheme in 1854 to a booming city. Along the way there were scores of great stories.

“It requires but little if any, stretch of the imagination to regard Omaha as a cesspool of iniquity, for it is given up to lawlessness and is overrun with a horde of fugitives from justice and dangerous men of all kinds who carry things with a high hand and a loose rein. . . . If you want to find a rogue’s rookery, go to Omaha.”—Kansas City newspaper. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Omaha! It’s my hometown. Sadly, when I lived there I was much less interested in its history. History is wasted on the young.

What Worked
David Bristow does a really good job making this book light enough to be popular nonfiction, but also with some historical “crunch” to it. All the stories are well-cited as well as well-written.

There is also a good variation in tales. Omaha began its life with the reputation of being a “wide open” city. Crime of all sorts was rampant. (It could be argued that crime boss Tom Dennison, not covered in this book since he didn’t come into power until post-1900, was at least an organizing influence.) But along with tales of gambling, prostitution, and sadly, a lynching, there are stories of newspaper editor dust-ups, hot air balloon hijinx, the other White City, and (of course) weather.

While the book doesn’t go into a extreme detail, the many first-person accounts quoted give a good idea of what it was like to live in Omaha in the late 19th century.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Caxton Press, 2000
Acquired: Amazon, March 11, 2013
Genre: nonfiction, history

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Deal Me In, Week 19 ~ “Aloha Oe”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Aloha Oe” by Jack London

Card picked: J – Jack of Spades for Jack London, hadn’t realized I’d done that when assigning stories to cards.
Found at: AmericanLiterature.com

The Story
At the dock in Honolulu, a massive crowd is gathered to bit farewell to the Senatorial junketing party. Among those leaving are Senator Jeremy Sambrooke and his lovely daughter Dorothy. Among those staying is Stephen Knight. While the senators had been wowed by sugar cane and coffee barons, Knight had shown off the rougher side of Hawaii. In particular, he shown Dorothy volcanoes and taught her how to surf. And until this moment of parting, with “Aloha Oe” being sung to them, Dorothy had only saw Knight as a playfellow. In this moment under his gaze, she’s suddenly aware of womanly feelings for him.

Which is a little eye-rollingly cringe-worthy. Numerous times, we’re told of Dorothy’s “ripening,” which is at least balanced by how masculinly masculine Knight is. Though I am a child of the late 20th century, I’m kind of surprised that Dorothy, at age fifteen, is just now noticing boys/men and is just now being noticed by them.

Alas, even if distance didn’t separate Dorothy and Stephen after her departure, the fact that he’s hapa-haole, or of mixed heritage, would prevent him from being marriageable. Hapa-haole also can refer to music that is Hawaiian in tune, but with English lyrics. London concludes the story with the only time he includes English lyrics in the song:

Aloha oe, Aloha oe, e ke onaona no ho ika lipo,
A fond embrace, ahoi ae au, until we meet again.

The Author
I haven’t read much London. Is he better with nature than with people?