A career-spanning collection of short stories that illustrates the writer’s preoccupation with animals, artists, and the fantastical.
The stories in this volume—split into sections called “Among the Animals,” “Among the Artists,” and “Metamorphoses”—were gathered from more than 30 years of Martin’s published work (The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, 2014, etc.). But one recurring question, which Martin voices in her introduction, is strung through them all: “Are we animals, or are we something else?” Whether they’re self-absorbed painters, deserted women, or even centaurs, Martin’s characters are torn between the facades they don and the baser, more animalistic impulses—the needs for power, attention, and revenge—that animate them. In "Spats," Lydia, who’s recently been abandoned by her husband, contemplates exacting revenge on his beloved dogs, which are still in her care. "The Freeze" finds a middle-aged teacher spurned by a young love interest at a party; in a resulting state of self-pity, she ignores an ominous noise outside her house during a thunderstorm. "Among the Artists" offers "The Unfinished Novel," the collection’s standout. Maxwell, a moderately successful novelist, is visiting his hometown of New Orleans when he encounters Rita Richard, a former lover from his graduate writing program who broke his heart long ago. Once golden-haired and blessed with a prose style that “made us all sick with envy,” Rita is now frumpy and still unpublished, so Maxwell assures himself of his superiority; but when, after her death, he finds himself in possession of her writing, he must decide between his curiosity and contempt. Here, the characters are sketched with such complexity that the reader’s sympathies are torn for the whole story. While the final section showcases Martin’s imagination—a brutal mermaid watches humans drown in the eponymous "Sea Lovers"; a centaur falls in love with the opera in "Et In Arcadiana Ego"—Martin doesn’t enter those characters’ minds quite as deeply as in her other stories, making them less emotionally appealing. But overall, this is an insightful look into the evolution of Martin’s writing and her talent for depicting our darker natures.
Varied, engaging, and often shocking.