Book Review: Circuits & Slippers

csFirst, I have to say I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Begin honest review. Go.

This collection combines two of my favourite things—fairy tales and scifi. I’m fascinated by the intersection of fantasy and science fiction, and it’s really cool to see fairies translated into aliens, magic into technology, and ancient stories into futurescapes.

In a twitter chat with the authors recently, editor Jaylee James asked a question that strikes at the heart of the anthology:

“Do you think fairy tales will still be relevant in the distant future, or will we invent new fairy tales?”

Each story in Circuits & Slippers seeks to explore this question in some way.

Disclaimer: It’s really hard to review a collection of stories. Even in a collection by a single author, each story is a separate work with its own world, characters, and objectives. Since I can’t go into all of them here, I’ll just give you a little taste of what you can expect overall.

The anthology opens with “The Slumbering Hill,” a Sleeping Beauty retelling that sees Saira, a tech scavenger from a place called The Pits, journey across a desert to find a cozy town without tech where she discovers “fabric not yet made into clothing, seeds not yet grown, and ingredients not yet made into food.” The story is full of wonderfully imaginative details like these, and there is also a story within the story, a type of legend referred to as a “star story,” which is an answer to the earlier question as to the future of fairy tales. Anyway, the star story here is a scifi Sleeping Beauty tale that wraps up into the larger meta-narrative and comes to a satisfying conclusion that sets the perfect tone for the rest of the anthology.

The next tale is a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk—but the beanstalk is a space elevator. This story has a similar atmosphere to the first, a wonderful blend of fable and future.

Then things take a dramatic turn with “Alone, and Palely Loitering,” which is about Galahad, who is an “automated museum curator,” an AI tasked with filling and protecting a grail with the history of Earth after its demise. While the lore it’s based on is still central, the story has a strong scifi atmosphere (in an awesome, creepy, “what happens when we’re gone?” kind of way.) Similarly, “The Last” tells the tale of the last woman from Earth, a warrior who was salvaged from the planet’s wreckage and preserved in a tower as a specimen of humanity. Her final mission…Project Rapunzel.

“CAT Beyond the Moon” mixes things up even more, with a very funny narrator who tells us about a girl named Cara who wants to attend the Newton-Nye institute, and doesn’t think she has a chance until CAT a “Creature for the Annihilation of Tragedy” comes along to help her—after getting a new pair of boots, of course. While the story is set far in the history of our own solar system, there are a lot of hilarious current references, such as the “tragic tale of the Downgrading of Pluto” which is taught to all the children in this world, and is yet another answer to the question of what fairy tales will become.

Another story that stands out is “Le Trotteur,” which takes us into a future version of the Quebecois legend of Alexis Lapointe, who in this reality is a Magskater hurling across gravity-defying tracks. The story has a fun, sporty feel because it’s driven by races and speed, yet finds time to slow down to incorporate the strong flavour of French language and culture.

“Fit for Purpose” is narrated by an android, which gives it a unique perspective, and there’s some interesting gender stuff going on here as the android is sexualized even though it doesn’t have a gender.

Another one of my favourites, “Compatible” is a hilarious and touching story about an alien studying human hair. It involves a trans human and a “more-male-than-female” alien who can’t quite be Earth-gendered. Here is an example of the humour: “I’m just now realizing how expressive eyebrows can be. Maybe humans use the hair on their head to communicate with other humans, and that’s why they’re obsessed [with it].” Maybe you have to read it in context, but trust me, when you do it’s hilarious.

These are just the stories that stood out to me, but the rest of the anthology doesn’t disappoint. There are cool scifi twists on some of the most conventional tales, like Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood, and Beauty and the Beast. And as you find yourself slipping deeper into this timeless future, it becomes clear that the stories themselves are both the questions and the answers—blending the wisdom of the past, the progress of the present, and our hope for the future. Fairy tales are timeless because, in the telling and evolving, they inspire us to push ourselves to the stars.

Circuits & Slippers comes out in paperback and kindle ebook on September 29th.

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Happy Pride!

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Winnipeg Legislative Building

I fee so lucky to live in a time and place where we can be proud to be ourselves. It’s not always easy, but it is possible. Pride is special to me for a couple reasons, besides the obvious ;)

1. For many years I considered myself an ally. I was on the fringes of acceptance, but scared to come out. Then I saw representation of gay people in books (largely through Lethe Press) and stories (coming out stories and also Netflix DVDs that were delivered in discrete envelopes) and I wanted to be brave like the strong characters in these stories. Stories made me realize for the first time that I could be proud of myself, to acknowledge that I was gay and that I could be strong and happy instead of ashamed.
2. My birthday is in June. That’s it. A little anticlimactic, I know, but it feels a little magical. Another magical thing was that I first came out on a groundhog’s day, which I find pretty funny.

So anyway, I want to return the love and support I got in those early days by sharing some reading recommendations of great gay books.

Boys Like Us

This is a collection of essays by gay writers, reflecting on a diverse array of coming out stories. Some tragic, others hilarious. I kept this book by my bed for months before and after I first came out, gaining strength and courage from the stories.

I’ll Give You The Sun

by Jandy Nelson

This is a beautifully written YA novel about art, love and everything in between. I know I already said it, but the writing is so beautiful, at once satisfying and startling. This book is made of the kind of sentences that get stuck in your head like songs.

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Another YA novel, about love and longing, and another piece of brilliant writing. Seriously, that is enough. Go read it.

Vintage: A Ghost Story

by Steve Berman

A YA novel about a gay goth kid. Yet another beautifully written work. The haunting coming of age story is about a boy coming to terms with life, death, sexuality and the strange forces beyond us. Fast paced yet thoughtful, this novel follows some conventional ghost story/horror/suspense conventions in the best, creepiest ways while telling a refreshingly unique story.

Otherbound

by Corrinne Duyvis

Yet another YA novel. I didn’t plan this I swear, they’re just great books. This one is contemporary fantasy, sort of. A girl and a boy from different worlds share a special link and do not fall in love with each other!

Another Country

by James Baldwin

I first read this in a literature class in college. I’ve now read it about 5 times. This was the first work of “literature” that I read that featured gay characters, and it changed me and continues to change me to this day.

The Whole Story and Other Stories

by Ali Smith

Ali Smith is a genius. And this is another book I read for a class but kept reading over and over. Her stories are insanely creative, mind-bending, and wonderfully crafted.

 

I could keep going on and on with great book recommendations, but celebrating diversity is about sharing and listening so everyone can be heard.

What are your favorites?

Book Review: Player Piano

cover_0I first picked this book up about three years ago, around the time I started my first full-time job. I’ve always been a dreamerand had a fear of selling my time and becoming a slave of the 9-5. Through this book I was seeking a way to make myself feel better about signing my soul over to the corporate world. I’d heard that this was a book that explored the idea of why work is important, why we need to keep busy and productive to be happy. But I was disappointed that Vonnegut’s conversational tone wasn’t present in his first novel, and found the story to be slow and boring. I read the first few chapters and put it down.

Fast forward three years into the future. To now. I absorbed the book in a couple days. I couldn’t put it down. What changed? Me. I’ve had my ups and downs in the corporate world since the first time I tried to read Player Piano. I now understand the cut-throat world of office politics, but also the fulfillment of a job well-done and the structure of a set schedule.

I’ve seen my job begin to be phased out by automation software, so the story of a working force displaced by machines really hits home. But what really kept me turning the pages was the career of the protagonist, Paul Proteus, one of the few people left with a stable job after machines replace humans in almost every part of society. What really drives the novel is Paul’s identity crises as he tries to decide if he wants to go for a promotion or give it all up to follow his ideals.

FIG16Despite the fact that it was written in 1952, and the technology sometimes feels dated (audio is always recorded on cassettes, and computers use physical cards to record data), Player Piano is a terrifyingly relevant story that brings to life a future that we have already stepped foot in.

Though Vonnegut hadn’t established his voice yet, Player Piano is a great work of literature reminiscent of other satirical dystopian masterpieces. Vonnegut acknowledged that he “cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World,” and it’s easy to see the similarities, but his story is a fresh one, with a wealth of insight to offer us more than half a century later. This is now one of my favorite Vonnegut novels (And I’ve read most of them). It belongs on the shelf alongside Brave New World (We)Fahrenheit 451, and 1984.

The Burning Questions

I’ve had an interest in philosophy since my teen years, and I had my first panic attack about the impossibility of infinity before I was ten, so I’m no stranger to the burning desire for knowledge that has consumed so much of my life and so much of the world throughout history. I’ve often found myself asking what we can learn by studying the past, from science and religion, from the universe itself, and from looking toward a transhuman, post-singularity future.

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It wasn’t until I reached college that I first encountered a physical manifestation of what I call these burning questions. In an art history class at JMU, the professor showed us slides of a painting called Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? by Paul Gauguin. In my search for meaning I’ve so often struggled just to find the questions, let alone the answers. But when I saw the painting, those three questions became the primary mantra in my search for meaning in my life and in the universe itself.

The search for knowledge is maddening. Why are the answers to the questions which seem so vital to our very existence so impossibly elusive? The closer we get to the truth, the blurrier it becomes. If only we had a massive pair of communal reading glasses.

In thinking about the past, the “Where Do We Come From?”, I wonder if we have Adam and Eve to blame for devouring any knowledge fit for humanity, digesting it, and turning it into excrement. If there was a tree of knowledge growing in my garden, I wouldn’t think twice about rebelling against the powers that be for a taste of what’s behind the veil. Rules are meant to be broken, right? Maybe I’d be struck by a divine bolt for my insubordination, but why go to the trouble of planting a knowledge tree if its fruits aren’t meant to do anything more than fall to the ground and rot?

I’ve always been an avid reader and looked to books for my primary source of answers. At the same time, I have an understanding that those answers aren’t in any book, because there most likely aren’t any answers. But recently the maddening thirst for knowledge has hit me with full force, regardless of how much or little I think I understand about the way the world turns. This summer I’ve been devouring books at an alarming rate, usually at least a couple a week, searching the pages for answers, and then, without pause, tearing into the next book, desperately hoping to get a little closer to some universal truth.

Obviously I haven’t come across the meaning of life. I promise I’d share it with you if I had. And if you have, please let me know so I can go back to reading at a leisurely pace. Just leave your insight in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to note your insight and shelve the books so I can go back (as if I was ever there) to sanity.

I’ve also been reading a lot about immortality and transhumanism, thinking about the Where are We Going? question. I haven’t really been seeking these books out, they’ve been finding me.

I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t know the answer to any of the burning questions. But I still ask them. I still madly scour the pages of book after book, Untitledlooking, I guess, not for answers, but for reassurance that it is okay not to have the answers. That not knowing is fine. That it is good. That it is the way the universe is designed and maybe the meaning is wrapped up in that unknown, a wrapping paper tessellated with question marks. I mean, what’s the point of existing in the first place if everything’s already figured out? Why go through the motions?

But I digress. In all the reading I’ve been doing this summer, one passage in particular jumped out and smacked me across the face, leaving my ears ringing with the sound of one hand clapping. So while I may not have any answers, I’m stabilizing again as I’m reminded that the human concept of meaning might just be the greatest barrier between us and understanding our place in the universe.

Here’s the passage, which is from Another Roadside Attraction:

“But seriously, if life has no meaning—”

“To say it has no meaning is not to say it has no value.”

“But to say it’s all meaningless. Isn’t that a cop-out?”

“Maybe. But it seems to me that the real cop-out is to say that the universe has meaning but that we ‘mere mortals’ are incapable of ever knowing that meaning. Mystery is part of nature’s style, that’s all. It’s the Infinite Goof. It’s meaning that is of no meaning. That paradox is the key to the meaning of meaning. To look for meaning—or the lack of it—in things is a game played by beings of limited consciousness. Behind everything in life is a process that is beyond meaning. Not beyond understanding, mind you, but beyond meaning.” – Tom Robbins

 

 

 

Re-reading

I recently started re-reading my favourite book, as I do every few years. This is my fourth time, the first being when I bought my well-loved hardback copy of the original 1984 print at a used bookstore in Urbana-Champaign while visiting my sister in 2003.

A lot has happened since I last read this book and I was worried I’d changed so much I would no longer recognize what my past selves loved so much about it. This same fear read over my shoulder on my third read too, but it proved to be unfounded, both last time, and again now. I can confidently say that Jitterbug Perfume is still my favourite book.

Since the last time I read this book, I’ve moved to a different country and pushed myself through the square hole of an MFA program where I learned a lot about the craft of writing and how to be irrationally critical. As a result, I (surprise!) found myself being much more critical than I was on my first or even third reads, especially at the beginning of the book. But as I neared the end I continued to re-discover what I loved so much about this book, and also to find new things to love about it. More about that here.

Jitterbug_PerfumeSo why do I keep coming back to this book?

Is it the fantastical element of mortals becoming immortal, gods on the verge of death? Is it the humour, or the bizarre characters and plot? I love the bizarre, enlightening humour of all of Tom Robbins’ books, the way they invigorate me with a curiosity of the world around me and a passion for life, the way they open my mind while making me laugh, and venture into dark territory without ever dragging down that joie de vivre.

But here, in Jitterbug Perfume, all of these elements combine perfectly to create my favourite book four times over (and counting). As I look at the other books on my shelf (the ones that I’ve read and loved a couple times, the ones I’ve studied for class, and the ones I’ve read instead of the ones I was supposed to be reading for class), they all have wonderful elements and ideas that excite me, but none are as full-bodied and satisfying as Jitterbug Perfume, a book which both satiates my desire for fun, for knowledge, for imagination, and for magic, yet still leaves me hungry for more.

Book Reaction: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr Penumbra's 24 hr BookstoreI’ve started labeling these posts “Book Reactions” rather than “Book Reviews” because I don’t want to write up a full review on every book I read, but I want to share what excites me about them.

So, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Where to begin? I loved everything about this book.

I hadn’t heard of it until a friend recommended it, then it sat in my virtual reading list for months, until I finally picked it up last week. Maybe it was for the best that I didn’t read the book sooner, because I have since worked in marketing and now as a technical writer for a software development company, so I totally get where the main character Clay is coming from when he is let go from his marketing/programmer job and thrown into the world.

Clay is a really fun character to spend time with and he pulled me in right away. I really wanted to follow him through his world and see what he was up to, meet the interesting, brilliant artists and programmers and obsessive readers. The other thing that drew me in is the physical books vs. internet-culture debate that rages through the novel, and Clay’s thoughts on both sides. I love honest he is, how one minute he is fighting to create a marketing campaign for a failing bookstore, the next contemplating buying a book on Amazon because it’s cheaper.

As the novel progresses, an intriguing plot develops, and more fascinating characters and ideas about the future of humanity are presented. I devoured this book in a couple days because I had to know what happened, had to discover its secrets-and I genuinely enjoyed spending time with Clay and his friends.

As I was reading the copy I checked out from the library, I found myself wishing I was reading an ebook for the poetic experience it would provide. This was such a brilliant, beautiful reversal on the concept of a paper book being the sarcophagous of the literary form. This excitement for technology is alive in the pages of the novel whether you read the physical book or the ebook (though I can’t vouch for the audiobook if there is one, it may have some differences-you’ll get this if you read the book). As it was, I read a well-loved paper copy that was creased in just the right places, cover worn but not damaged, pages turned but not torn-and this was satisfying as well.

This physical book vs. ebook dilemma really sums up my experience with Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. It is a celebration of the written word and its power in all forms. It is a celebration of humanity, of life, and a love-letter to the potential greatness in us all.

To learn more about Robin Sloan and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, visit his website.

Book Reaction: Above by Isla Morley

I was planning to review this book, but I decided to only post a quick reaction instead because everything I want to say about it would give away one of the things I loved most about it. All I will say about that is: in a way, this book is a retelling of Plato’s Cave. It’s bizarre that I came across this book when I did because I was just trying to think of a way to write a novel based on the allegory of Plato’s Cave, but figured the idea was too vast. I couldn’t figure out how to contain all the implications in the lives of characters and in the pages of a book, but Morley nails it.

The reason I’m talking around this book rather than about it is because I felt like I was at first being carried along the currents of a predictable story about a girl named Blythe who is kidnapped and forced to live in an abandoned bunker. In her captivity her present is interwoven with memories of the real world she is cut off from.

Maybe I was oblivious, or maybe I was just too close to Blythe’s experience, feeling the lack of wind and the soil all around instead of below, but I was shocked and fascinated by what happened in the middle of the book. It swept me along and made me look at the world in a different way.

This book was an exciting and surprising experience for me, and one that I won’t soon forget. It is crafted from madness and terror and all the ugliness of the world, but it is also a beautiful thing, held together by Morley’s poetic voice.

Isla Morley’s debut novel, COME SUNDAY, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award for Fiction in 2009, and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize.  It has been translated into seven languages. She has lived in some of the most culturally diverse places of the world, including Johannesburg, London and Honolulu.  Now in the Los Angeles area, she shares a home with her husband, daughter, two cats, a dog and a tortoise.

 

 

 

The Future of Books is in Your Hands! (Hachette v. Amazon)

If you’re a book lover, or just interested in business, chances are you’ve heard about the recent Hachette v. Amazon “war“. If you haven’t, basically Amazon is upset with a major publishing company about a deal that didn’t go their way. So now they’re restricting sales of books from Hachette Book Group authors.

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We just want to read Harry Potter! 😥

There have been instances of Amazon not allowing preorders of books by Hachette authors, (Including lots, and I mean lots, of big name authors such as J. K. Rowling!),  ridiculously delayed shipping times for those books, and even raised prices and suggestions of (non-Hachette) books they might prefer to the one they specifically clicked on because they were interested in buying it.

Why is this a big deal? Well, ordinarily it wouldn’t be. Companies have disagreements all the time and create alliances and enemies. What makes this case different is that Amazon pretty much has a monopoly on book sales these days, so their tactics have a great impact on Hachette, its authors, and potentially all writers and readers (as well as the publishing industry as a whole).

When I hear the term “monopoly” used to describe Amazon’s book sales, I immediately think of dystopian societies like in Farenheit 451 in which books are perhaps not yet banned, but are a regulated commodity. If Amazon does one day hold a monopoly on books, it will have a monopoly on what is published, and will be able to censor books to its liking or to act as advertising tools rather than function in the many ways we have come to know literature: as art, companionship, beauty, escapism, etc. This is the extreme, but it’s scary that it is a foreseeable future.

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Trinity Library, Trinity College, Dublin

So what can we do?

I feel like the eventual answer is for the publishing industry to gang up on Amazon and create a competing virtual book store, but right now all we can do is support our local book stores. Support libraries and attend readings. And if you want to buy books online, buy them from a book store or publisher website. We need to show Amazon that whatever disagreements they may have with publishers, we as consumers, as writers, as readers, — we have a voice — and books are written for us and by us. And they are purchased by us.

If Amazon wants a piece in that, fine, they can treat readers and writers and publishers with respect. And just maybe, one day we’ll learn to trust them again. But until then, read, write, and realize how precious and fragile this freedom is.

Book Review – Thunder Road by Chadwick Ginther

cropped-thunder-road-mockBeing a recent transplant to Winnipeg and a lover of mythology, Thunder Road has been on my radar for quite a while, but I only recently got around to reading it. Everything I had heard about this novel, from the Norse Mythology to the badass protagonist with nothing to lose, felt familiar to me when I first learned about this book. It reminded me of American Gods. This is not a bad thing because I love American Gods and the juxtaposition of mythology with the contemporary world. So instead of thinking, “Oh look there’s a Canadian rip-off of American Gods which could probably be called Canadian Gods,” I thought, “Great, more awesomeness for me to read!”

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Even the covers are similar!

The cover art kind of bothered me because it only makes the novel look more similar instead of standing out as a unique work of its own. It would have been nice to see a cover with the blazing oil sands, a giant amidst the flames, or even some Manitoba landmark.

Thunder Road tells the story of Ted, who was “touched by the Nine Worlds” when he was exposed to the fire giant Surtur during an explosion while working the oil sands in Alberta. After the giant wreaks havoc on the patch and changes Ted’s life forever, he moves to Winnipeg for a fresh start. But once he is exposed to the Nine Worlds of legend, Ted is pulled into the world of Norse Mythology. He is tied down by strangers in a hotel room and branded with markings that give him the power of the gods. I won’t say what happens with the tattoos, because learning about them and what they are capable of is one of the coolest parts of the book and I don’t want to ruin it. Let’s just say he ends up on a yggdrasil_and_dragon_by_tattoo_design-d7652i2world-saving road trip across Manitoba with Loki and a fortune-telling love interest along for the ride.

While there are a lot of similarities between Thunder Road and American Gods, they are two very different novels and the themes they share are ones I could read about a million times and still want more, just as we desire some connection to the old world, to the gods of the past and their place in the present. And Thunder Road does succeed in making that journey a very Canadian one, with a wealth of Canadian landmarks and even mentions of Tim Hortons!

One thing that really sets this novel apart from American Gods, aside from the Canadian/Manitoba focus, is that it is solely based on Norse mythology, whereas although American Gods relies heavily on Norse mythology, it is more about a culmination of world mythologies coming together in America. I loved that theme in American Gods, but I also equally love the focus on one mythology in Thunder Road. And if you have to choose one, Norse Mythology is a pretty damn good choice.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes urbran fantasy or has any kind of interest in mythology. I’m curious to see where this trilogy goes, so I’ll definitely be reading the second book, Tombstone Blues, some time this summer.

***

 

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Chadwick Ginther is the author of Thunder Road (Ravenstone Books), a fantasy in which the larger-than-life personalities and onsters of Norse mythology lurk hidden in Manitoba. A sequel, Tombstone Blues, is set for Fall 2013. His short stories have found a home in On Spec, Tesseracts and the Fungi anthology from Innsmouth Free Press; his reviews and interviews have appeared in Quill and Quire, The Winnipeg Review and Prairie Books NOW.

Book Review: Swamplandia!

I reviewed St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves a few years ago, and read Vampires in the Lemon Grove a while back, though never wrote up my reactions. After finally diving into Swamplandia!, I want to take some time to reflect on it. Overall, Russell’s first novel feels very different from her stories, but still has that Karen Russell quality which has won her a Pulitzer nomination and a Genius Grant.

Swamplandia! Is a beautiful, bold, ambitious novel set in the otherworldly Florida swampland. It is narrated by Ava Bigtree, a young girl who grows up in an alligator park in the depths of the swamp. After the death of her mother, the famous alligator wrestler Hilola Bigtree, Ava’s family is fragmented, sent in separate directions searching for pieces of the world to rebuild their lives with in the wake of their loss. Her father and brother Kiwi leave for the mainland to make money to save the failing park. Her sister Ossie disappears into the swamp intending to marry her ghost fiancée, and Ava herself embarks on a journey to find her sister.

My main complaint about St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves was that Russell’s word choice often seemed whimsical and out of place in her stories of mythic proportion. She has since refined her style and gone for atmosphere over whimsy in Swamplandia!, which is a welcome change of tone. Now, however, sometimes her word choice seems to err in the other direction, too big and obscure for the young narrator. This gargantuan vocabulary works when Ava’s studious brother Kiwi is in the limelight, but it feels out of place when we’re seeing the swamp from Ava’s perspective.

The rest of my review is going to sound harsh, so I want to make it clear that there is a lot that I love about this book. Karen Russell is a wonderful genius, so I’m going to be hard on the novel, because it deserves to be held against the greats. Speaking of which, she reminds me a lot of a modern day Italo Calvino, which I love.

As is often the case, what I liked and disliked most about this book were one and the same, namely the ambiguousness with which Ossie’s ghost boyfriends are presented. Are they real, or not? The possibility is intriguing, but the spirits appear to be real one minute and a fabrication the next. Maybe the point is that their existence is not so simple.

The mysterious aspects of the novel were handled well overall, but I was disappointed by the ambiguity of the supernatural elements of the story, because that ambiguity made the novel decidedly realistic, and the surreal quality of Russell’s stories is what I love most about them, the bizarre contrast of a minotaur with a human family or a vampire in a lemon grove.swamp

My second gripe is the ending. I won’t say too much because I don’t want to give it away, but there were several vastly different stories blazing trails through this book: the girl who grows up on an alligator farm, the girl who falls in love with ghosts, the boy who flees home to work in an underworld-themed amusement park, and the girl who embarks on a quest to the underworld with a mysterious stranger.

Each story is interesting in its own right, but they never quite seem to come together until the very end, at which point everything is suddenly resolved. The pacing of the last 100 pages feels off altogether, partly due to a major trauma Ava suffers toward the end of her journey. I won’t say what it is because it’s shocking, but it’s the kind of thing that sparks a novel of its own, not the kind of thing that should happen at the end of a sweeping, ambitious novel when many, many other things need to be resolved.

This book feels cluttered in some ways because there are so many different stories being told, but at its heart it is a novel about the swamp. Russell herself is a Florida native and often tells interviewers about how the swamp inspires her, how bizarre and beautiful it is. And that really comes through in Swamplandia! The swamp is a living (or maybe ghostly) presence in the novel that shapes the lives and deaths of its characters.

For now I think Russell’s ideas are better suited to stories, where she can let them loose to crash and clash, myth and man, and let their wildness take over. All this said, Russell is still one of my favourite contemporary writers, and I am excited to see what she comes up with next, be it short story or novel.

4/5 stars

karen-russell_custom-682cffba96008b453df4ba632725f10d9ffb640c-s6-c30Karen Russell, a native of Miami, has been featured in both The New Yorker’s debut fiction issue and New York magazine’s list of twenty-five people to watch under the age of twenty-six. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program and is the 2005 recipient of the Transatlantic Review/Henfield Foundation Award; her fiction has recently appeared in Conjunctions, Granta, Zoetrope, Oxford American, and The New Yorker.

She has written two collections of stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Swamplandia (Feb 2011) is her first novel.

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Poet and speculative fiction writer for teens and adults

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notes from a creative writing PhD candidate

Sophie's blog...

Pictures, notes, beauty tips, music and mystery!

Gazing Grain Press

A Project of Fall for the Book and the George Mason MFA Program

Amy Trueblood | Author

A wink, a smile, and a happily ever after

mywithershins

A site for writers, readers & crafters, young & old

mylittlecrippledheart

explorations on disability, writing, and the intersections in between

Lo scrittore impenitente di Federico Calafati

I miei racconti vi daranno un pugno nello stomaco, preparatevi!

Writer in the Middle

I’ve lived in Winnipeg my whole life. It’s an unassuming, middle-of-the-continent kind of place that sometimes yearns for greatness — which is why it suits me, I guess.

duncan thornton, his blog

notes about writing and things

The Daily Dahlia

Not so daily, but definitely Dahlia.