I keep saying I love Georgette Heyer, so of course when a volume of her short stories appeared on Netgalley, I requested it. Originally, the story collection was released as Pistols for Two, so I’m sure I read it years before but did not remember the stories.
Each of these stories is a romance in miniature. They involve some of Heyer’s hallmarks—cases of mistaken identity, elopements gone wrong, accidental encounters, and a couple of duels. Appealing heroines meet attractive men usually while they are engaged in some mistaken folly.
These are delightful, light stories, perfect for a rainy day and a cup of tea. This is a very short review, but if you like a charming romance laced with humor, you can’t go wrong with Georgette Heyer.
Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle
Like Olive Kitteridge and a few other books I’ve read the last few years, Alice Munro’s The Beggar Maid is a novel constructed from short stories. It tells the story of Rose and of her relationships with other people in her life.
The stories about her childhood and adolescence are mostly about her complex relationship with her stepmother, Flo. Rose feels she can never please Flo, but at the same time she finds Flo rude and vulgar. These early stories also portray an environment of ignorance and poverty, her stories about school particularly shocking.
“The Beggar Maid” is what Rose’s first boyfriend Patrick calls her. But as Rose marries Patrick, who moves them to Vancouver to run one of his father’s department stores, Rose slowly learns that both of them have overestimated Patrick’s own gentility. Rose has thought she was marrying a scholar not a department store heir. As she is attracted more and more to the bohemian crowd in Vancouver, it becomes more obvious how unsuited the two are.
Munro’s stories are insightful about people, and as I believe Rose is Munro’s alter ego, unsparing in looking at herself. Her prose is, as always, spare and beautiful.
The View from Castle Rock
Because a few months ago there was some mini hooplah about The Bloody Chamber, I thought it was a recent book, but it turns out Angela Carter died in 1992. I was totally unaware of her unique work.
The Bloody Chamber is a series of fairy tales and legends, retold. In them, heroines strip away their passivity. Some of the tales are gruesome, and all of them feature blood.
“The Bloody Chamber” is the story of Bluebeard retold. The young bride sells herself for riches and is taken to a castle floating in the sea. Her husband tempts her to look in the forbidden room by his very act of forbidding it, and she finds a slaughterhouse. When he returns unexpectedly, her intrepid mother saves her life.
I won’t tell the ending of the others, but Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, and Beauty and the Beast are all featured. The prose is gorgeous, with startling images and strong feminist themes, and Carter has a fascination with wolves.
This book will probably not be for you if you are at all squeamish. I am not, and some of it was a bit much for me. Still, it is a quick read, sometimes funny, always fascinating.
The World’s Wife
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
I have read two novels by Lauren Beukes and greatly enjoyed their mashup of crime fiction and science fiction. So, I thought I’d love Slipping, a collection of short stories, essays, and other writings.
Beukes’s writing is energetic and her ideas unusual, often gruesome. Her stories are often bizarre. But, oddly enough, after a while they seemed to be very similar. Most of them are set in South Africa in what appears to be the near future, although some are set on other planets. Many are violent; many have characters leading glitzy but vapid lives. They feature a lot of slang that may be invented. There is a glossary, but I didn’t notice it until it was too late.
“Muse” is a short poem about the difficulty of writing, in which the writer receives gloves made of “muse skin” with barbed hooks in the fingertips.
“Slipping” is about athletes who are artificially enhanced competing in a race. One of them is even a dead body. “Confirm/Ignore” is about catfishing. “Branded” offers advertizers a brand new idea for sponsorship. “Smileys” is a dystopian tale about a street vendor defending herself against extortion. “Princess” puts a startling interpretation on the story of the princess and the pea.
I don’t know why I felt this sameness, as the stories are obviously varied in nature, but I found myself not wanting to read more. I think some of the images were just to grotesque for me.
The Shining Girls
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in modern fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!
Ariel of One Little Library
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kate of Kate Rae Davis
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink
Strange short stories seem to be one of the newest literary fads, and Helen Ellis’s certainly qualify. Not only are many of the stories in this selection strange, but her approach to a few of them is unusual, those stories consisting only of lists. Her heroines are frequently demented.
“What I Do All Day” is one of those list stories, recounting the events of the daily life of a housewife with too little to do. “The Wainscotting War” is about a feud between co-op owners over the decor of a shared hallway. This story features a woman who becomes unhinged by this disagreement, losing her job and her husband because of her behavior.
My favorite story is “Dumpster Diving with the Stars,” in which an author agrees to compete on a reality show. I liked this one because it sends up so-called reality television while having mostly likable characters. But some of the other stories just go too far over the top for me, like the one about the novel sponsored by Tampax, although I get the underlying message about what it takes to get some writers to write. Of course, one of Ellis’s main tools is exaggeration, and sometimes it is funny.
What does the book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?
It’s hard to generalize about marriage from these stories as the husbands are mostly in the background. Only in “Dead Doormen,” about how a wife takes over from her mother-in-law in caring for her husband’s position on the condo board, is their relationship at all stressed, and in this case, her husband is a privileged slob whom women control. Sometimes the husband is referred to affectionately, but often ironically, as when one narrator’s husband gives her a warm kiss every morning, but that’s the only one she ever gets. Although some of these wives work, most of them seem to be idle or to wait on their husbands hand and foot. I don’t get the feeling that Ellis’s housewife is representative of the women I know. On the other hand, maybe the term “housewife” is used ironically, as it is an old-fashioned word. Most of these stories seem to be steeped in irony and exaggeration.
Silent Nights is a collection of classic mystery stories set at Christmastime. Represented are well-known writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, and Dorothy L. Sayers as well as writers who are not as well known now, such as Ethel Lina White and Leo Bruce. At least, I am no expert, but I have not heard of them before.
Like most mystery short stories I’ve read, these are more concerned with posing a puzzle. They are not long enough for much serious characterization or detailed plotting. Still, I found some of them surprisingly effective.
In “Waxworks” by Ethel Lina White, for example, atmosphere is created in a story of a female reporter who decides to spend the night in a haunted wax museum. She is stalked there by a jealous coworker.
“Stuffing” by Edgar Wallace has an ending reminiscent of “The Gift of the Magi” in which the ill-gotten gains from a robbery that are hidden in the crop of a Christmas turkey end up in the hands of a poor, innocent couple about to depart for Canada. They think both the turkey and the money are gifts from the woman’s rich uncle.
In “The Unknown Murderer,” H. C. Bailey’s detective Dr. Reggie Fortune figures out the game of a pathological murderer. In “Cambric Tea” by Margery Bower, a jealous man tries to frame two innocent people for murder.
Not all are that successful. “A Problem in White” by Nicholas Blake doesn’t tell the solution (which I guessed) unless you turn to the back of the book. “The Name on the Window” by Edmund Crispin depends its puzzle on which side of the window the victim supposedly wrote the name of his attacker. Yet for this solution, we must suppose that the victim was stabbed and then walked around a building and down a long hallway for no apparent reason than that he could collapse on the other side of the window. Not, I think, the behavior of a dying man. (And, typically, he didn’t just write the name of his attacker; he hinted at it.)
In any case, this collection made me interested in looking for some of the longer works by some of these authors.
The Santa Klaus Murder
The Hog’s Back Mystery
Note: Survey results. Some of you may remember that about a year ago, I had a link up to a survey created by Ariel of One Little Library. If you are interested in viewing the results of the survey, she has now posted them on her web site.
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Elizabeth McCracken’s stories combine a minute observation of ordinary life with a sensibility that is just a little perverse. Not very perverse, like the stories of Margaret Atwood or Karen Russell, but just a little. People disappear, someone down the street is murdered, a boy is almost starved to death by his grandfather—things that do happen but are unusual.
In “Something Amazing,” Missy Goodby, a girl who died of lymphoma, is said to haunt the neighborhood, but it is Santos Mackers who disappears after locking his little brother Johnny up in a trunk. Once Johnny gets free, the Goodbys are happy to care for him.
In “Property,” a recently widowed man leases a house sight unseen for his return to the States after his wife’s death. When he arrives, he finds the house filthy and full of trash. It takes some time for him to learn a different perspective about the house.
A woman who records novelty songs finds out more than she wanted to know about her audience in “Some Terpsichore.” The library employees see the effect both on the friends of a murdered woman and on the accused boy’s family in “Juliet.”
These stories are beautifully written with vivid imagery. I enjoyed this collection very much.
Let Me Tell You
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves