Some time ago, I tried my hand at crafting a haibun–a Japanese prose/poetry hybrid form. Generally these consist of a very brief prose section followed by a haiku that’s related to it in some way. The result, “The Chariot, Glimpsed Through a Garden Gate,” has been published at Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. You can read it here.
Monthly Archives: March 2016
I don’t read much nonfiction, but I’ve always loved raptors, so this was a book I just couldn’t pass up. Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk has garnered a huge number of accolades for its tale of how the author, devastated by her father’s sudden death, returns to her childhood fascination with hawks and falconry.
Helen adopts and trains a goshawk named Mabel. At first, this endeavor serves as a means to hide from the tragedy she’s recently suffered. Training a hawk is a time-consuming project and involves spending a lot of time in rural areas, so she doesn’t have much contact with people, and most of the get-togethers she does have center around Mabel. Eventually, however, her bond with Mabel leads to her restoring her bonds with her family and friends. Despite MacDonald’s esoteric pastime, the raw emotion of the book, and its centering around an all-too-relatable event, makes her story easy to empathize with.
To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of this book was the “subplot” about the life of T.H. White, author of The Once and Future King. White was also a falconer, and in addition to his more famous Arthurian tale, he wrote a book about his attempt to train a goshawk. Throughout H is for Hawk, MacDonald includes asides about White’s falconry, his writing, and the effect that his The Goshawk had on her. White treated the training of his goshawk as a struggle between man and nature—he saw it as an attempt to impose man’s will on an unruly wild creature and tame it. What MacDonald doesn’t realize when she reads The Goshawk as a child, but comes to understand as an adult and a scholar of both literature and falconry, is that White’s attempt to prove that man can be victorious over nature was an act of desperation. The nature that White truly wished to tame was his own: he was gay, and given the discrimination he would have faced at the time had it become known, wished that he wasn’t. The dramatically different ways in which White and MacDonald relate to their goshawks add another interesting dimension to this story.
H is for Hawk brings together a deeply personal story of recovery from tragedy, a narrative about learning the art of falconry, and academic information about the life of a great author and the history of falconry. This mix of subjects makes the book an engaging read.
Kelly Link has won many accolades for her previous collections of short fiction for adult readers, Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners. Since writing Magic for Beginners in 2005, she’s run a small press, edited anthologies, and written a collection aimed at young adults. But it wasn’t until last year that she put out another short story collection in the same vein as the two for which she first became known.
Get in Trouble contains nine stories, most of which fall into the subgenre known as magical realism or slipstream. The opening story, “The Summer People,” wasn’t what I expected—I was anticipating a similarly themed piece to Joyce Carol Oates’s story of the same name. But it turned out to be my favorite story in the book.
“Secret Identity” and “Origin Story” seem to be set in the same universe, one where superheroes and supervillains exist. Superpowers appear to be common in this setting, though most are relatively minor. The main character in “Origin Story,” for example, can hover a couple of feet off the ground. Despite the fantastical nature of some characters’ abilities, the focus of both stories is on the “everyday” human aspects of their lives, particularly their relationships with others (whether superpowered or not).
“I Can See Right Through You” is a ghost story intertwined with a critique of Hollywood and celebrity culture. While some parts of the story are amusing or absurd, other scenes are deadly serious. In a similar way, “Valley of the Girls” presents a world in which the gap between the super-rich and everyone else has widened so much that wealthy families hire doppelgangers called “Faces” to live their childrens’ lives in front of the cameras.
“The New Boyfriend” and “Two Houses” meld ghost stories and science fiction. In addition to this genre similarity, these two stories are alike in that they both have the feeling of being thought experiments. It’s not uncommon to see a trope in stories where magic/supernatural effects and technology don’t “get along” well. But what if the two were capable not only of coexisting, but synergizing? Could an android be possessed by a ghost? Could there be haunted spaceships as well as haunted houses?
In “The Lesson,” the speculative elements are much more muted than in the rest of the pieces collected here. It could almost be pure literary fiction…but not quite. The story has an almost surreal quality, and like “Secret Identity” and “Origin Story,” the relationships between the characters are far more important than the fantastical goings-on.
“Light” gives us almost the exact opposite: a “kitchen sink” of fantasy and science fiction concepts all coexisting in the same world: there are shadow-twins, pocket dimensions, and more. One interesting aspect of the world-building was the way in which these fantastical elements became part of people’s everyday lives: the main character takes care of mysteriously appearing “sleepers” for a living, and her parents have retired to a paradisiacal alternate reality.
One thing that all the stories in this collection have in common is that they’re character-driven: however central the supernatural aspects are, they’re always shown in light of what they teach the characters about themselves, the impact they have on the characters’ relationships with one another, or how they reveal something about the character to the reader. This makes the stories memorable and compelling—and the collection as a whole makes me want to check out Link’s other work.
My short story “Gifts from a Newlywed Husband to His Wife” has been published in Electric Spec. You can read it here.