The stories in Felt’s collection tap into the mysteries of childhood, incorporating folklore, ghost stories, and Mormonism along the way.
In this concise book, Felt covers a lot of ground, both thematic and tonal. Some stories tap into the surreal and fantastic, while others parse out family histories in a realistic manner. What unites almost all of them are deft evocations of a child’s perceptions. In several of these stories, words like “Cousins” and “Guest” are capitalized, turning visiting characters into something closer to archetypes. That’s in keeping with the way many of these stories weave in and out of folktales, in which transformations (both in stories and in stories within stories) abound. In one of the latter, a cat slowly transforms into “a Gorbel, which is like a cat but also like a spider, and has no mouth except when it’s eating and no eyes except when it’s looking at something nasty.” But the folkloric elements of these stories aren’t omnipresent. The narrator of “Snow on Snow” recounts how his parents met: His Mormon-missionary father traveled to Sweden, where he met the woman he would marry. Though he’s years from being born, the narrator remains a presence, with periodic commentary like “Now I’m going to do something odd and imagine my parents’ first meeting, from Mom’s point-of-view, in an overtly romantic way.” It’s a sometimes-mannered narrative voice, but it’s also a confident one, which helps to make a familiar storyline feel fresh. In the concluding “The Guest on Summer Island” (with a Tove Jansson epigraph), Felt delves back into history and restrains the more bizarre aspects of his fiction but nonetheless summons power from the history of the landscape around his characters.
Alternately unnerving and heartwarming, this book’s evocation of family life is compelling stuff.