“Living did not mean one joy piled upon another. It was merely the hope for less pain, hope played like a playing card upon another hope, a wish for kindnesses and mercies to emerge like kings and queens in an unexpected change of the game. One could hold the cards oneself or not: they would land the same regardless.”
Oh, the vast darkness that abides in the human soul…
This collection of eight short stories is unsettling. It’s about the weirdness in us, the darkness in us, the quirky things that make us human and inhumane.
“Observing others go through them, he used to admire midlife crises, the courage and shamelessness and existential daring of them, but after he’d watched his own wife, a respectable nursery school teacher, produce and star in a full-blown one of her own, he found the sufferers of such crises not only self-indulgent but greedy and demented, and he wished them all weird unnatural deaths with various contraptions easily found in garages.”
I’m not sure I can say that I liked it, but it’s very well written. There are tales of death, of life, of relationships, of the ways we hurt one another, and of rat kings. If you don’t know what that last one is, and you are tender hearted or stomached, don’t go and look it up. Also, when people in this book start to head into the cellar, just consider yourself done with that page. Skip ahead. Trust me on this one.
Here’s the thing; I can definitely appreciate the artistry in the author’s writing. Her turn of phrase is brilliant. Her prose is crafted like finely sculpted marble – to the point of being cold and unfeeling in places. I feel as though these stories were told without judgement or emotion, so that you could make up your own mind about the characters, but that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.
“She was wearing an old summer dress as a nightgown, but in the mornings it could work as a dress again, if you just tossed a cardigan over it and put on shoes. In this risky manner, she knew, insanity could encroach.”
I kept thinking that the next story would be the one that I related to, or liked, or could see real validity in, but I never quite got there, even if I did have moments of “Oh! That passage is just brilliantly written!” I never connected with the author, or with the characters, or with the stories themselves. I just felt terribly empty after finishing this.
“If you were alone when you were born, alone when you were dying, really absolutely alone when you were dead, why “learn to be alone” in between? If you had forgotten, it would quickly come back to you. Aloneness was like riding a bike. At gunpoint. With the gun in your own hand. Aloneness was the air in your tires, the wind in your hair. You didn’t have to go looking for it with open arms. With open arms, you fell off the bike: I was drinking my wine too quickly.”
I generally really like short fiction, and if you like very weird, very dark short fiction that is written by someone incredibly talented but also incredibly morbid, you may like this book. For me, it’s left me unsettled and uncertain, and in need of a Disney princess movie to settle my nerves.
“A woman had to choose her own particular unhappiness carefully. That was the only happiness in life: to choose the best unhappiness. An unwise move, good God, you could squander everything.”