The Good: Here’s the problem: each Margo Lanagan short story is so unique that it’s impossible to easily sum up just why her short story collection is terrific. What label to even give it? Fantasy? Horror? Magical Realism? Retellings?
Each story in Yellowcake is perfect. With each story, I was pulled into a fully created world. No, more like fell — fell into a place and time and didn’t, at first, know quite where I was. Lanagan treats her readers with respect: she knows you can keep up with her. That no one’s hand needs to be held. Here, she says, in the story; let’s not waste time or words with exposition or any info dumps or any pretend casual, “as you remember, John, (explanation of what John knows but the reader never could.).” Why walk when you can run?
The stories in Yellowcake are a short window into other people’s lives, into other worlds: with each, you know that life was happening before the story began and will continue after it ends. People’s actions aren’t punished or rewarded; they just are.
These stories are rich: rich because of the language Lanagan uses. Rich because of the world-building. Rich because of the plotting. Rich because of the characters. So rich that this isn’t a “read it all at once” collection; it’s a set of stories to be read and savored over time. And because there are ten stories, see why it’s almost impossible to say anything more? Because to say more would mean to do ten reviews, one for each story. And to do that — well, part of why I enjoy diving into a Lanagan story is figuring it out for myself. Realizing, this story is being retold; realizing that something terrible was happening; discovering some quiet beauty. Why take that away from someone else?
So, instead, here are some lines I particularly liked:
“Was she smiling? He wouldn’t put it past her, to have a smile at his expense. Smug cow.”
“Her whole face had come unset form its folds and habits, from here it might age any number of different ways.”
“And her he was in the middle of it, for the moment — “
“Well, in the town where there two beautiful daughters lived there was a fascinator, named Gallintine.”
“Down I go. Down and down, down and round, round and round I go, and all is black around me and the invisible stone stairs take my feet down. I sing with more passion the lower I go, and more experimenting, where no one can hear me. And then there begins to be light, and I sing quieter; then I’m right down to humming, so as not to draw attention when I get there.”
I love Margo Lanagan’s novels; but oh, these short stories! So, yes, a Favorite Book Read in 2013.