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Black Juice by Margo Lanagan
Review by Gayle Surrette
Eos Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0060743905
Date: 01 March, 2005 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Singing my Sister Down
My Lord's Man
Red Nose Day
Sweet Pippit
House of the Many
Wooden Bride
Earthly Uses
Perpetual Light
Rite of Spring
The pervasive theme in this wonderful collection is the individual's roles in community. Tribe, village, family...self.

Each of the ten stories tells a complete tale, or perhaps it's better to say that it illuminates one, leaving the reader's imagination wandering backwards and forwards in time to imagine what had gone before and what will happen after.

The tone of things is intriguing, at least to an American reader, though one supposes it makes perfect sense for folks down under. The fusion of British and Tribal cultures causes an interesting dissonance that makes new views of old institutions possible, whether dealing with a murderer or following a bride's procession to her moment at the altar.

These are just my impressions as I read through the book, and I'll be updating it as I read (and reflect more). - Ern

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan is a small collection of 10 short stories in just 198 pages. Why do I mention the number of pages? Well, it?s difficult to believe that so much tension, terror, weirdness, beauty, and intelligence can be packed into so few stories and such a small space.

I found that some of the stories were so powerful that I needed to take a break of at least a day before moving on to the next one. ?Singing My Sister Down? was just such a story. Ikky is being punished for the crime of killing her husband and her family gathers round to talk of old times, shared memories, and sing songs. It?s told through the eyes of Ikky?s younger brother. The family is close and wants to say all that must be said as Ikky sinks slowly into the tar pit and her death. It?s a story that gets under your skin and makes you think of the meaning of justice, family, and balance in life.

Next, ?My Lord?s Man? tells of a husband and his servant chasing down the Lord?s wife who has run away from her duty and her home. Throughout the search and chase you fear for the life of the woman you haven?t met yet. The servant tells the story and yet the final scene is one that is startling in its understated understanding of desire, passion, and duty.

?Red Nose Day? finds two snipers ridding the world of evil, one clown at a time until it becomes personal. Elephants gather together and break their training in order to bring their ?Sweet Pippit? back from where the men had taken him. In ?House of the Many?, a young boy comes of age in his small village and realizes that there must be more to life. He returns home to close the circle and visit those he left behind. A young girl wants the prestige of being a bride and on the day of her graduation, in ?Wooden Bride?, she begins to look at all she has left behind to take this path.

?Earthly Uses? has a young boy seeking out an angel to help his dying grandmother. An ecology gone wild is the backdrop to ?Perpetual Light? in which a young woman remembers her grandmother as she attends her funeral. ?Yowlinin? also deals with ecological catastrophe and it?s aftermath from the point of view of a young girl, survivor of an earlier Yowlinin attack.

In ?Rite of Spring?, the unappreciated son has to perform the sacred ceremony that his brother has trained for all his life. But the brother and mother are ill and the task becomes his even though his mother doesn?t believe he can do it but without the ceremony the whole village could die.

I highly recommend this book. Every story is a gem dealing with family, accepted ideas of what is right and what is wrong. In each story, there is some reason to stop and examine your own beliefs about family, friends, society, and relationships. These are the kind of stories that help to shape your understanding of the world because they make you think again about the given?s of the world, but at a distance from here and now so you can see them in a new light and re-evaluate. These are the kinds of stories that always made an impression on me as a child and now as an adult in shaping my worldview ? and isn?t that what science fiction and fantasy is all about.

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