SAFFRON AND BRIMSTONE by Elizabeth Hand

SAFFRON AND BRIMSTONE

Strange Stories
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Myth and magic are the ingredients assembled to sometimes stunning effect in this vivid gathering of previously collected and recently published stories from the award-winning fantasy author.

Brandishing the lush descriptive prose that energized such critically acclaimed novels as Waking the Moon (1995) and Mortal Love (2004), Hand conflates reality with dream and disorientation, the physical world with realms visited in memory and imagination. In “Wonderwall,” a former substance-abusing college dropout and wannabe writer reflects on her defiantly wasted youth; the doomed figure of a fellow drama-student soulmate “who was waiting to be discovered” and instead discovered his own frail mortality; and a nightmarish envisioning of a catastrophic near-future defined by environmental disaster and the AIDS pandemic. Two brief stories grounded in Greek mythology articulate the rueful observation that “Always, somewhere a woman waits alone for news.” That archetypal sorrowing figure assumes the forms of the eponymous nymph “Echo,” pining for Narkissos while subsisting on a remote Maine island, and the title temptress of “Calypso in Berlin,” who has learned from her betrayal by Odysseus how to manage her restless lovers. More precisely contemporary themes are addressed in the vacillating post-9/11 love story (“Kronia”) and the eerie tale (“The Saffron Gatherers”) of a woman writer and all-purpose intellectual whose longtime bicoastal romance falls victim to the future shock she had feared, and perhaps imagined into being. The volume also includes three novellas from Hand’s 2003 limited-edition collection Bibliomancy: a plaintive account of preparations for the pagan burial ceremony for its narrator’s lifelong friend (“Pavane for a Prince of the Air”); the story of a rejected daughter’s self-healing through the art of tattooing and the energy of Tarot cards (“The Least Trumps”); and a kick-ass horror story about a lonely lepidopterist’s absorption into the only world that appears to want her (“Cleopatra Brimstone”).

Some redundancy and sketchiness are only slight blemishes in another rich display of this gifted visionary’s enticing wares.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 1-59582-096-5
Page count: 275pp
Publisher: M Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2006




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