Award-winning British novelist Almond (Kit’s Wilderness, 1999; The Fire-Eaters, 2004, etc.) offers readers a glimpse into the workings of his alchemical imagination in this collection of eight otherworldly short stories set in his hometown of Felling-on-Tyne.
Almond’s small-town stories of savage bullies and beautiful souls are so alive and vividly spun they often feel at least partly true. Here, the author prefaces each fictional short story with some autobiographical context. “Slog’s Dad,” about a father who returns from heaven to visit his son, was inspired by a Raymond Carver line “I’ve got how much longer?” In “May Malone,” May calls a Catholic priest a “bliddy liar” in church just as one of the author’s friends did, and “The Missing Link” was going to be an “outsider” story but ended up a ghost story. The tale-behind-the-tale preludes are intriguing—perhaps especially to big fans and those interested in the writing process—but the stories themselves shine brightest here. Taylor’s illustrations, sometimes cartoonish, sometimes more abstract and moody, cast the Almondine experience in yet another new light.
This is powerful, top-notch storytelling from Almond, who seems himself to be the titular “half a creature from the sea,” in that he, as ever, fluidly blends past and future, the living and the dead, the ordinary and the transcendent. (Fiction/memoir. 13 & up)