An eclectic anthology of 20 short stories with enough variety to satisfy a diverse group of genre enthusiasts.
Thorsen (Miss Emily Martine and Other Stories, 1989) is a gifted practitioner of the short story craft. Her settings vary from the commonplace, such as the local carnival in “Mad Dog,” to the exotic—the Arctic Circle in “Due North,” or West Africa in “The Center of Everything” and “The Dance.” From story to story, Thorsen switches with ease among first- and third-person narrations. With pathos that is palpable, she captures the loneliness of widowed Margaret, who lives with her son, an American attaché in Africa. In a moment of abandon, Margaret, who has been terrified of leaving the house, throws open the door and joins a group of local natives to dance with a chained leopard. The exuberance of Alex, a young apprentice in “The Mortician,” will have readers chuckling when he decides to add an extra bit of makeup to the visage of a corpse he’s preparing for viewing. Thorsen’s wide-ranging imagination allows her to set one tale in historical Russia (“Captain of the Horse Guards”), another about 2,000 years in the future (“Monkey”), another at an archeological dig in Utah (“Range Creek”), and another near a tributary of the Amazon (“The Center of Everything”). She indulges in the mystical and the magical as well as the ordinary and, occasionally, the apocryphal. A couple of tales are bleak, but others display a sense of fortitude, of determination and perseverance. Unfortunately, copy editing doesn’t do these stories justice. It’s irritating to have such smooth prose interrupted by the debris of clunky errors: “He speaks in with a nasal tone” or “Anna fidgeted her with cotton sarong.”
A worthy, quirky collection of short escapes.