REVIEW: Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand
The devil is in the details in this collection of well-crafted short fiction that sits on the uneasy border of slipstream and horror fiction. The pieces in this collection are as dense as novels, filled with telling, carefully chosen descriptions and character-revealing dialogue. When the supernatural (or counterfactual) appears, it has a rich background to interact with. In the opening tale, The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon, the relationship between the middle-aged men who attempt to recreate a mysterious film that documents a flying machine is rife with details about and character sketches that are as important and enticing as the steampunkish ‘hidden history’ trope the story is built around. Hand weaves together such disparate strands, such as late 70′s life, working at the Smithsonian, cancer, and the pains of widowhood and single fatherhood, in such a natural way that the ‘strangeness’ of the story is , while essential, just another fascinating plot point. The spooky Near Zennor terrifies by insinuation as much as by actual incidence: Hand creates a fascinating red herring subplot about a series of creepy children’s books that aid and abet the disquieting denouement of the tale. The collection is mostly dark fiction, but it’s closer to the work of, say, Isak Dinesen or Robert Aickman than it is to Stephen King or Clive Barker. Part of has to do with the elegant way Hand constructs her tales; each small world is crammed with essential detail, like a motherboard. For instance, the use of Icelandic folklore in Winter’s Wife, or the character study of the titular Uncle Lou. And part of it has do with the craft its self: even on the sentence-level, each image is exquisite. The one outlier piece in the collection, the Jack Vance pastiche Return of the Fire Witch, adds humor to the mostly bleakly beautiful collection.