II

ON MY BOOKSHELF

1. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales by Kate Bernheimer // "The fairy tale is not dead. This wonderful collection brings together some of our best contemporary writers and some of our most beloved (and even feared) old stories. Rumplestiltskin, Bluebeard, the Earl-King, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White-all come alive again in vivid and colloquial prose. This is a book of brilliant dreams and dazzling nightmares: perfect fare for imaginative readers of any age."

2. St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell // "A series of upbeat, sentimental fables, the 10 stories of Russell's debut are set in an enchanted version of North America and narrated by articulate, emotionally precocious children from dysfunctional households. Each merges the satirical spirit of George Saunders with the sophisticated whimsy of recent animated Hollywood film. In "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," a motherless girl, "staying in Grandpa Sawtooth's old house until our father, Chief Bigtree, gets back from the Mainland," struggles to understand her big sister's blooming sexuality, which seems to grow scaly and incarnate. Timothy Sparrow and Waldo Swallow Heartland, the two brothers of "Haunting Olivia," search for their sister's ghost near Gannon's Boat Graveyard using a pair of magic swimming goggles. In the title story, the human daughters of werewolves are socialized into polite society. Russell has powers of description and mimicry reminiscent of Jonathan Safron Foer ("My father, the Minotaur, is more obdurate than any man," begins "Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration"), and her macabre fantasies structurally evoke great Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor. If, at 24, Russell hasn't quite found a theme beyond growing up is hard to do (especially if you're a wolf girl), her assorted siblings are rendered with winning flair as they gambol, perilously and charmingly, toward adulthood."

3. Magic for Beginners: Stories by Kelly Link // "The nine stories in Link's second collection are the spitting image of those in her acclaimed debut, Stranger Things Happen: effervescent blends of quirky humor and pathos that transform stock themes of genre fiction into the stuff of delicate lyrical fantasy. In "Stone Animals," a house's haunting takes the unusual form of hordes of rabbits that camp out nightly on the front lawn. This proves just one of several benign but inexplicable phenomena that begin to pull apart the family newly moved into the house as surely as a more sinister supernatural influence might. The title story beautifully captures the unpredictable potential of teenage lives through its account of a group of adolescent schoolfriends whose experiences subtly parallel events in a surreal TV fantasy series. Zombies serve as the focus for a young man's anxieties about his future in "Some Zombie Contingency Plans" and offer suggestive counterpoint to the lives of two convenience store clerks who serve them in "The Hortlak." Not only does Link find fresh perspectives from which to explore familiar premises, she also forges ingenious connections between disparate images and narrative approaches to suggest a convincing alternate logic that shapes the worlds of her highly original fantasies."

4. The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold by Kate Bernheimer // "The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold is a lavishly poetic novel that draws upon the motifs of traditional German, Russian and Yiddish folklore and fairy stories to recount the visionary obsessions of a passionate young woman. The narrative moves freely through time and space, uniting Ketzia Gold's early childhood with her sexual awakenings, creating a dreamscape of haunting vividness. Marked by a logical illogic and disarmingly sane madness, this haunting and innovative fable creates an emotional landscape that's as impossible to escape as it is for young Ketzia to inhabit. Kate Bernheimer interweaves hypnotic imagery and everyday life, moving back and forth through time, piecing together the fragments of memory and imagination with an obsessive lyricism that recalls the poetic fictions of Carol Maso. Bernheimer's story is a rich tapestry, patterned with childhood longings and the luxuriant complexity of womanhood."

5. The Winter Without Milk: Stories by Jane Avrich // "Jane Avrich explores the perils of desire in these fifteen brilliant stories. Here are characters irresistibly attracted to excess — material, emotional, spiritual — who must in the end choose between a life of self-indulgence and a life of self-control. The results are both disastrous and uplifting, and often wickedly funny. Throughout The Winter Without Milk are reimagined characters from literature and history — Oedipus, Lady Macbeth, Scheherezade, for example — as well as everyday people who want more. Avrich's writing ranges from whimsical to cerebral. She pays homage to everyone from Kafka to Keats to Sophocles but is very much an original and a major new talent in contemporary fiction."

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