Every birthday, I treat myself to a stack of books. I find it amusing that people often have trouble gifting me with things, because there are so many books I don’t yet possess. When in doubt, a book is an absolute joy.
When I saw Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace publish this past spring, I knew I wanted it; it looked epic and mythological (and look at that cover!), and felt tied to the next novel I plan to write. In fact, in many ways, it was extremely on point for the book I mean to write, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m torn about this book over all.
On the one hand, it presents an amazing strange and broken world, where ghosts roam and the living don’t know how the world came to its end. On the other, it felt like a very predictable journey to me, which is perhaps a downfall of being so well acquainted with mythology. Archivist Wasp is very true to many classic tropes and journeys and explorations. That doesn’t make it any less engaging for certain readers — so maybe I am not its ideal reader. I was captivated by the destroyed world, by the journey Wasp undertakes, and yet something was naggingly unfulfilled for me with this book. I am still not sure I’ve pinpointed it, either. Some of the language is beautiful, while other sentences are clunky and ill-formed. Our Heroine comes beautifully full circle, and yet —
Perhaps it comes down to a thing I learned from James Patrick Kelly at the ConJose writer’s workshop: thou shall not infodump in thy dreams. We wrote it on the white board; it must be so.
This next trio of books was also highly uneven for me. I look at their covers and get dizzy over the idea of these stories (except for that awful thing Our Heroine is wearing on book two). Werewolves in London! Steampunk! Magic! Sign me up.
Oh, swoon. And book two even deals with Egyptian hi-jinks! Hieroglyphs branded onto hearts, oh my gosh. But within these covers, I found clunky writing galore. Chiefly in the Crown & Key world, women seem to exist to be a) prostitutes, b) dead, or c) dead prostitutes. These dead women exist to motivate our hero Simon. They are also held to strangely perfect physical ideals, and Kate has…expressive hips, which Lisa Mantchev tells me only Shakira actually has. If only Kate had been Shakira in disguise…
I wonder if, even with their historical bent, these were just too urban fantasy for me. There’s no real depth; characters experience huge emotional swells and ebbs over the course of a few blunt lines. There was one character I found myself interested in: Penny Carter, who creates fabulous weapons and machinery for our protags to use. I would have loved more about her and her work.
The last book in my August stack is one I am also rather at odds with — my months are tending to have themes after all, aren’t they? I picked up Gutshot by Amelia Gray because of the cover and the cover alone. I am not familiar with Ms. Gray’s work beyond this volume. The book is published by FSG, which also did Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, which I had many a swoon over. I really love their design work!
Gutshot contains thirty-something short stories, some of them very short indeed. Flash-length stories abound, likely one reason I eye this book with caution. But the other, larger reason is this: these stories are damn odd and often damn uncomfortable. These stories do excessively strange things, which I both love and loathe.
As writers, we always hope our writing makes readers feel something, and in this, Ms. Gray is only successful. People are stranger than we know — stranger than we can know — and she exposes that beautifully here, making her reader shift as they read, looking for comfort not found in the book. Comfort fled the moment the reader opened this book, and may not return until long after its pages are closed.