Having just read an anthology, I next find myself reviewing a short
story collection. The difference between the two is night and day,
for in a short story collection, you live in the mind of one author
only, and Ms. Palwick is an author both excellent and disturbing.
This collection I just read, "The Fate of Mice," straddles the
boundary between "science fiction" and "literature," reminding me of a
less genre-fied era when there was less pressure to separate the two.
Ms. Palwick's stories live in fantastic world, usually just slightly
more surreal or magical than ours. The darkness of the stories,
however, does not come from the ways her worlds are different than
ours. It comes from the way it is the same.
The eleven stories of this collection explore loss of innocence, the
brevity of happiness, and the terrible things people do to the ones
they say they love. The elements of the fantastic in these stories
serve only to crank the volume of the drama up. For example, "The
Fate of Mice" and "Beautiful Stuff" are basically stories about death,
but their poetry is increased by the strange condition of the
Likewise, "Stormdusk," "Gestella," and "Sorrel's Heart" are about the
snares and tragedy that lie in relationships, while "Ever After" and
"Elephant" are two very different takes on coming of age. "The Old
World" is about points of view.
Two of the stories, "GI Jesus" and "Going After Bobo," didn't do much
for me, and that was perhaps because they were the least fantastic,
more reminding me of Raymond Carver than anything else.
But "Jo's Hair" is beautiful and sad, practically a poem, about
choices and the nature of a life.
This was not an easy collection to read. I did not read it straight
through, but a few stories at a time. In between, I re-read a series
of old favorites by C.J. Cherryh, whose essentially positive nature
("Everything would work if there were no fools!") was able to leaven
the impact of Ms. Palwick's work. In Ms. Palwick's stories, there is
rarely redemption. Things just happen believably and all the
imploring of a reader will not change the fate of a character.
They're all going to die, if not during the story, then sometime
afterward. There is no happily ever after, just a brief glimpse of
happiness to be treasured before it is too late.
I found them terribly depressing, but I cannot recommend against them.
They are good. They are not pleasant for me, but if you can
appreciate Ms. Palwick's view of the world, you will not be
disappointed. I know I am glad to have read these stories, and I will
never read them again.