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by Lucy Wood

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-547-59553-5
Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A dozen strange and original stories inject the magical, sinister and downright peculiar into the everyday.

Talking magpies, husband-stealing mermaids, women who turn periodically to stone: English writer Wood’s debut collection is full of mysteries and inexplicable occurrences in domestic lives. The application of eye cream in “Of Mothers and Little People” reveals to a daughter a wholly different reason for her mother’s behavior. “Notes from the House Spirits” gives voice to the inanimate and brings a strange perspective to human habitation. In “Lights in Other People’s Houses,” a ghostly shipwrecker arrives during a drought, filling an apartment with sand, pebbles and creeping damp. The sea is never far away in these narratives, sometimes as landscape—there’s a Cornish flavor to the book—at others central to events, as in the title story, which takes an abandoned wife down deep to the ocean floor. Wood’s tales often feature single females—unmarried women, deserted wives, perhaps the most memorable being Mrs. Tivoli in “Blue Moon,” who changes into a hare. Weaker stories are desultory or a bit obvious, and there’s an overreliance on vague endings, but at her strongest, Wood captures something fresh, fantastical and eloquent.

Occasionally just fey, elsewhere convincingly unworldly, these stories express a distinctive voice and a gently beguiling imagination.