In the last few weeks I’ve read books by Karen Joy Fowler, Karen Russell, Karin Tidbeck and Kaaron Warren, which allows me to use regular expressions when constructing book review titles. (I’m surprised that more reviewers haven’t incorporated programming features into their reviews). Sadly, my sister-in-law Karyn is yet to publish a book.
All of the books have been nominated for a bunch of awards and all of them contain well-crafted prose. My level of interest in their stories varied considerably though.
Karen Joy Fowler’s collection Black Glass (which seems to be out of print) won the World Fantasy Award for best collection. In general, the stories are thoughtful, slow-paced and full of interesting character observations. My favorite story by a long way is The Faithful Companion at Forty, which was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula and looks at what happens to forgotten sidekicks.
Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! was shortlisted for the Pulitzer and features a family of alligator wrestlers who run a theme park. I loved the first half of the novel – it is full of wonderful eccentric characters and strong, vivid writing. Unfortunately the story’s momentum collapses and I was reduced to skimming through the second half of the novel. I can’t remember a book where my level of enjoyment differed so much from the first half to the second.
Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath has been getting rave reviews and is shortlisted for the World Fantasy. Unfortunately I felt a total disconnect with her characters and writing. These days I am an impatient reader. I have so much to read that unless a story grabs me early on, I won’t keep reading. And that was the case with most of the stories in this book. Although the prose itself is strong, the scenarios Tidbeck created just left me wondering, why do I care? But I do seem to be in the minority when it comes to not enjoying this collection.
Kaaron Warren’s Through Splintered Walls was the most consistently strong of the K[a]*r[eio]n books. The collection contains four stories, all of which I enjoyed, but it is the novella Sky that is the real standout. Sky has won the Aurealis, Ditmar, Shadow, Shirley Jackson awards and is nominated for the World Fantasy. It is set in an Australian small country town full of understated menace. The story’s strength comes from its repulsive yet fascinating characters. It is the kind of story that you will keep you thinking about it long after you have finished it.