The End of the End of Everything – Dale Bailey

The End of the End of EverythingThe End of the End of Everything by Dale Bailey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Dale Bailey because his prose makes me want to write and when his stories speak to me, they sing.

I only connected with some of the stories in this collection – “The Bluehole,” “A Rumor of Angels,” and “Eating at the End-of-the-World Cafe” – and I’m not wholly certain what differentiates them from the other stories. It might be as simple as my connection to the characters. Once I look past Bailey’s prose, his characters all possess a realness I find compelling. It keeps me reading even when I don’t like them or I’m tired of their type: i.e., Ben Devine in the title story, yet another middle-aged mediocre white-guy writer who has affairs with co-eds and navel gazes about his own mediocrity. I’ve read enough of those stories. I wanted to love “Troop 9,” but I think it would have been an ideal story for me if it was written by a woman, about women (I’m thinking in particular of Ellen Klages, and recalling her story “Woodsmoke”) instead of being about men in the end. I can see and appreciate the things Bailey is doing in these stories, the ways he interrogates the tropes, uses Ben as a lens for the world-goes-to-ruin scenario, uses John Hardesty to explore the effects or war and toxic masculinity on women and a community in a place and a time, but I’d rather read those stories through the gazes of different people, like Tom and Lily (“Rumor of Angels”) or Eleanor (“Eating at the End-of-the-World Cafe”).

But that prose is so smooth and lovely, those ideas and details strange and alluring. Goddamn if I don’t want to grab everything Bailey’s written and gobble it up.

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The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings – Angela Slatter

The Bitterwood Bible and Other RecountingsThe Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings by Angela Slatter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love related short stories, and Angela Slatter takes it to the next level in The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. She explores the history of an order of archivist nuns, their fight against a man seeking immortality, and the strange and tragic tales of the many women whose lives and family histories cross and re-cross paths with this conflict. Each story stands on its own, with perhaps the exception of the final story, “Spells for Coming Forth by Daylight,” which follows immediately on the heels of “By the Weeping Gate” and must tie up all the threads of this epic tale.

This collection absolutely deserved its win of the 2015 World Fantasy Award. I feel like I read a multi-book series in 270 pages. I didn’t want it to end, so I doled out the stories slowly, and when I read the last line of the last story, I desperately wanted to return to the beginning and read it all again. I enjoyed Slatter’s collection of fairy-tale retellings, The Girl with No Hands, but the stories of The Bitterwood Bible make me want to write. They are that satisfying and inspiring.

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Wicked Wonders – Ellen Klages

Wicked WondersWicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ellen Klages might be my writing spirit animal. In the Afterword at the end of this collection, “Why I Write Short Fiction,” she describes her process, and it’s very similar to my own. Except for all the research, and the deadlines. I have no deadlines, so I never write anything. But damn if reading her work doesn’t make me want to write. I’ve been longing to tap away on this keyboard all day. If I could attack my fiction with the same gusto I’m giving this review, I would be content.

Every story in this collection is unique. Every story made me think. I want to read half of them again right now, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a writer. I also want to get a copy of everything else she’s written so I can binge on it until I’m stuffed and happy. Klages builds such a strong sense of place in every piece, through details of the setting, but also through the characters, that I fall into her work and inhabit it. I don’t want to leave.

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