Summer of Shorts 2: The Bloody Chamber and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

Week Two in my summer of shorts.  Have I mentioned my deep and abiding love of summer?

I spent this week off, taking my son to a local camp programming robots to ease up the Mom guilt of working year round and my son asking me why I do that, and my honest response of not being able to be home all day every day and be happy.  My middle ground is taking more time off in the summer to be with him and do things with him.  I’m trying to paste together an excellent childhood for him, which would be impossible if I didn’t go to work most of the 18 years that he is with me.

I work with kids and I know that most of the memories they reference when asked what their favorite memories are are the small things.  A time when a parent showed up to something.  Day trips, sports games.  But I still want to do the most I can with the time I have.   Maybe this has amplified with the crazy developmental strides I have seen in my son this year.  Right now he’s cutting his own nails without my asking or prompting him.

But the shorts I am talking about today don’t have much to do with my pervasive mom guilt.  I enjoyed them more than the two books I reviewed in last week’s post, and they had both been long time TBR hangers, which is partly the purpose of dedicating a month of summer reading to short forms.

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The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Angela Carter

This is a series of re-imagined fairy tales with a decidedly Gothic and romantic/sexual spin on them.  Carter also adds a significant dash of horror in there. I can see how fairy tales are a blank slate of sorts, a skeleton plot on which to project any theme desired, spin it in any sort of way.

I like fairytale retellings, and I love a Gothic feminist spin. The tone was set by the first story, Bluebeard, which unspooled a terrible and beautiful, enchanting Gothic tale. I only listened to this on audio and it would have been helpful to have it in print form, because sometimes I didn’t know if a story had changed into a different story or the same one from another perspective/narrator.  It would have been good to check where one ended and another began in a few instances.  Sometimes the beasts felt like they overlapped.

The narration was haunting, the retelling and the new spins enchanting.  Themes of inequality between the sexes and the precarious way women had to live in those times were pervasive in the narratives.  Lots of blood in many forms:  death, first menses, virginity/sexuality.   Transporting and for how long it’s been waiting for me to devour it, it was worth the long range eyeball.

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What is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi

A collection of tales, some that felt with a tinge of supernatural/magical realism to me (never a bad thing with me unless involving weird sexuality) all having a key involved.  The key isn’t to the same thing every time, and the key is often the entrance to another layer of story rather than the end/resolution to the story.  Keys are mentioned in the blurb but I actually had not read the blurb and I went back to it after about halfway through, maybe not even that far, noticing yet another key while listening to the narration of stories.

I feel vindicated in that other Goodreads reviewers mentioned that these tales are weird, disorienting, and would need a second pass over to collect all the bits.  It is truly a writer whose stories do that much to a reader, turn us upside down and wonder if we had missed something.  They would end abruptly too, and I would go back to my kindle version to be sure the story actually ended and another one had started.  Of course the narrators were different but often I was like wait did that one from before truly resolve enough to be considered done?   Other readers commented that the ends of the stories lacked an umph or a satisfaction for them, too, wondering if they had missed something.

Probably the story that resonated the most with me was Presence.  I don’t know if it is because the main characters are psychologists and one works with children and I could relate more in this aspect. Initially I bristled at the main character being a Psychologist but also on her third marriage and in her own treatment.  It’s not that we don’t need treatment, it just initially made me wonder why she was a little dysfunctional and in a healing profession, until Oyeyemi goes into her past as an adopted child, as well as her husband being an adopted childhood friend, and all the issues that come with that.  But then they test out a method he is using to help grieving people that ends up being haunting, weird, and capitalizing on connections that she had been missing from her life. Like I said, all the stories are a little disorienting and this one was not different, but it was also heartbreaking.

I have seen calls for submissions that want work reminiscent of Oyeyemi, and I don’t know if I have it in me as a writer to extend myself so loosely into the world like she can do. White Is For Witching was lovely but loose as well.  I do my monthly short story with the writing group I love but I haven’t been able to creep out to such dimensions.  I think I need to read more Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link, both of whose works I have sitting on my Kindle.

Summer of shorts continues into next week.  I think I could be taking more risks with my own writing of shorts.  It probably means I need to be writing more.  Isn’t that always the solution?  The hidden answer to everything?

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