Novelties and Souvenirs by John Crowley
Harper Collins Trade: ISBN 0380731061 PubDate: 03/01/04
Review by Victoria McManus
384 pgs. List price $13.95
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John Crowley Interview with Iain Emsley
Novelties & Souvenirs combines two difficult-to-acquire collections of John Crowley's short fiction: 1989's Novelty, later reprinted in a hardcover edition in 1997, and Antiquities: Seven Stories, published as a limited edition by Incunabula Press in 1993.
Among science fiction and fantasy readers, Crowley is perhaps best known for his classic fantasy novel Little, Big (1981) that combines elements of fairy tale with American folk belief and Sufi mysticism. However his newest novel, The Translator (2002), has only tangential fantastic elements, as do some of the stories in Novelties & Souvenirs. Crowley frequently combines elements of the fantastic with complex and vividly realistic characters and settings, such as in his AEGYPT series, yielding an Americanized magic realism, which perhaps explains why he is sometimes classed with "interstitial" writers such as Kelly Link and Jonathan Carroll. Crowley was also recently featured in Conjunctions 39, an issue titled The New Wave Fabulists. Fabulist is perhaps one of the best terms for Crowley, for his work, through both topic and prose style, holds the resonance of myth and fable.
The stories in Novelties & Souvenirs Can Be Roughly Grouped Into Four Categories. "Antiquities" And "Her Bounty To the Dead" are straightforward fantasy. "Antiquities" is the most prosaic story in the collection and serves as an example of Crowley's early work. "Her Bounty to the Dead" edges toward dark fantasy and themes of family and salvation that emerge again in The Translator; it was my favorite of the collection.
"Snow" is the most solidly science fictional of the stories, examining the processes of loss and memory and how memories change and fragment randomly over time. The four-part novella "Great Work of Time" won the 1990 World Fantasy Award but could possibly be considered science fiction as well because of its elements of time travel and alternate universes mixed with the British empire. Crowley again examines change and the effects of individuals on history. Futuristic story "In Blue" takes place after a societal upheaval, while "Gone" is an unusual look at an Earth that has been invaded by aliens.
Crowley becomes more directly mythic in several of the stories. "The Green Child" is a fairy tale of sorts, while "The Nightingale Sings at Night" is reminiscent of Kipling's JUST SO STORIES, had they been written for adults. "Missolonghi 1824" introduces the poet Byron to a satyr, and "Exogamy" features a harpy. "An Earthly Mother Sits and Sings" returns to the European myth of seal-people.
Four stories can truly be defined only as interstitial. "The Reason for the Visit" is a lyrical look at a fast-changing world and Virginia Woolf. "Novelty" addresses the thoughts of writers more directly, following a writer who had been "vouchsafed a theme" as his novel grows and changes in his mind. "Lost and Abandoned" takes a metatextual look at story itself, while "The War Between the Objects and the Subjects" looks at language and thought. These are the sorts of stories to read, dwell on, and then read again some months later with greater understanding.