Lanagan unravels familiar myths and fairy tales, weaving them into unique, sharply resonant forms in this characteristically stunning collection.
Reading Lanagan, like learning a language by total immersion, involves a leap of faith. Each tale conjures a world with unique laws and lawbreakers. Rather than being coddled by comforting dollops of exposition, readers dive into the murky unknown. Spellbound, they reach the end, astonished at how far from shore they’ve traveled. The most powerful of these tales reworks Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Tinderbox,” drawing on its creepy, amoral ambiance to explore the spoils and costs of war. “Rapunzel” morphs into a sunnier tale but with an eldritch feel. Supported by his loving wife and apprentice-daughter, Charon ferries dead souls across the Styx. However strange the details (a sentient building lumbers into the sea; a fascinator plies his trade), the stories rest on bedrock human emotions. Characters act out of fear, anger, love—to stop the pain, to make sense of the senseless, to protect family. The shipbreaking underclass who take apart horrifying vessels are decent folk at heart. In a tale exploring the paradoxical complexities of loss, a mother floats away from the family desperate to keep her. Traveling such elusive terrain requires an oblique approach, and Lanagan, like Emily Dickinson, tells it “slant.”
Familiar roots and accessible themes make this strong collection a good introduction to Lanagan’s mind-bending work. (author’s note) (Fantasy/short stories. 14 & up)