Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: At the Mouth of the River of Bees

Read 7/24/12 - 7/28/12
4.5 Stars - Highly Recommended to readers who have a little of the animal in them and love stories that will turn them to mush
Pgs: 300
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Release Date: August 14, 2012

The thing with short stories? I wish the ones I liked were longer. Like full-length-novel longer.

At the Mouth of the River of Bees is bursting at the seams with great short stories, most of which I was reluctant to see end. Kij Johnson's quirky characters made their way through their semi-scifi worlds and had me chasing after them, hopeful and enthralled.

The opening story 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss - a tale about a woman whose world is changed forever when she buys a travelling magic show involving monkeys - is by far one of my favorite (you can read it here) and sadly one of the shortest.

Magic, incidentally, appears to be the sun around which Johnson's stories orbit. It's the unifying element that's woven throughout each uniquely exquisite piece.

Fox Magic, a dead giveaway by title alone, is about a family of foxes who weave a magical spell around a wealthy man so that he might fall in love with their daughter. In My Wife Reincarnated as a Solitaire, a man's dying wife seems to transform into a rare, living bird at the moment of her death. Ponies warns about the dangers of attempting to fit in, when a young girl takes her pony to a "cutting out" party to have its wings and horn removed. In The Man Who Bridged the Mist, which is vaguely reminiscent of Stephen King's The Mist, we read about Kit and the strange things that happen during the time it takes for him to build a bridge over a river of mist that contains scary, unspeakable things. And in the final story (another personal favorite), The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs in North Park After the Change, we are introduced to a world where dogs have evolved and can speak and think as humans do and the horrible fate that change brings on.

Things are not always what they seem in this collection. Sometimes Kij lets us in on the secret from the start. We read on, knowing what the protagonist doesn't, slapping our foreheads in disbelief  that they can't see what we see. Other times, I get the feeling the joke is on us, that the characters are all in on it and they're just messing with us as they go. Mostly, though, things unravel for us in time with the characters.

I remember cracking this open and reading 26 Monkeys, thinking to myself that if the rest of the stories in this collection were anything like this one, I was going to be mush by the time I got to the end. And then I read the last story, The Evolution of Trickster Stories, and it mushed me, totally and completely.

Were there stories in this collection that felt like filler and fluff? Sure. Were those stories forgotten before I had even finished reading them? Yes. But the ones that hit home really hit home HARD and will blow you away and make Kij Johnson and Small Beer Press people to keep an eye on. I promise.

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