Friday, April 9, 2010

Burning Your Boats

I'm currently ensconced deep in Burning Your Boats, the collected short fiction of fabulist Angela Carter.

Many short story collections are easy reads—quick tasty bites easily enjoyed and easily finished. Carter's stories are not easy. Her stories defy a cursory reading and demand attention. Her lush language and fecund imagery entangle the reader, forcing a languid pace and a dreamy sensibility. When you read her stories, you're surrounded by excess—the sweet scent of jungle flowers turned cloying, covering up the underlying odor of rot and decay.

You'll meet familiar characters and storylines, but these are not your mother's fairy tales. Loss of innocence is a major theme, both innocence carelessly given and innocence cruelly taken. Sexuality and eroticism is rampant, as is a kind of desperate tenderness. There is blood and violence aplenty, and a notion that we are animals at heart, giving the most unthinkable actions a patina of inevitability and sometimes terrible beauty.

Carter is able to re-work familiar stories into something new and uniquely her own, adding layers of emotion and meaning. There's simply no mistaking an Angela Carter story for anybody else's. She weaves an ornate tapestry that, if sometimes overdone in places, is nevertheless a masterpiece of decorative skill.

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