Lyrical stories about love, sex, and death from Barnhill (The Girl Who Drank the Moon, 2016, etc.).
A Midwestern widow who loves animals rejects her mortal suitors to run off with a Sasquatch. A refugee from the London Blitz, exchanging letters with her husband, slowly comes to understand that she is, in fact, already dead. A professor who happens to be an insect and the last of his kind finds himself drawn to an astronomer who has never been alive. With lush imagery reminiscent of Ray Bradbury or Angela Carter, Barnhill explores passionate relationships frustrated by greed, malice, and—ultimately—death. In her world, witches are as likely to be holy women who heal the sick and make common ground with prostitutes (“Elegy to Gabrielle—Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves”) as they are to be evil stepmothers who steal husbands (“Notes on the Untimely Death of Ronia Drake”). She has an affinity for the symbolic vocabulary of contemporary literary fantasy—automata, insects, taxidermy—which can feel overused, though she deploys it skillfully enough. Her language, poetic and evocative at its best, can sometimes cloy, but the fire and bitterness of her themes generally cut the sweetness.
Whether Barnhill’s settings are contemporary, historical, or dystopian, she mixes the feeling of fairy tales with the psychological preoccupations of literary fiction; her longer stories tend to be her better ones, allowing her room to develop her characters from symbols to people.