St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid, by C.L. Polk

St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid by C.L. Polk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Listened to the Levar Burton Reads podcast of this story, and his reading is fantastic. I really appreciate that he highlighted Teresa’s inner landscape of acknowledging, receiving, and giving love. There are a lot of things going on this story, and that wouldn’t necessarily have been the element that stood out to me the most, but it is at the heart of the character, and drives the story above all other aspects.

This story has so many things I love – witching, witching with bees, birdcage elevators, women being strong in different ways, academic competitive friendships, and horrible people getting what they deserve.

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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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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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