A SPECTRAL HUE made it on a couple of other lists. The Mary Sue included ASH on this list: Books off the Beaten Path: 15 Small Press Reads If You Want Something Different. Venacular Books crowned my book the Best Horror Novel (!!!!) in its year-end Books to Give Thanks For list.
Of course, it’s not everyone cup of tea.
And some people thought that a book that features black and queer characters shouldn’t even exist. On the release day, Word Horde put up an ad that highlighted the cast of the novel. Trolls came a’ trolling. Most of the negative comments were nuked. But one slipped through
Honestly, the sentiments expressed in this bit of hate mail are why books with minorities,–sexual, gender, racial–are so important.
Over at GoodReads, Skin Deep Magic has its first review, and it’s a good one. James says,
Skin Deep Magic, the second short story collection penned by Craig Laurance Gidney, is a worthy follow-up to his first collection, 2008’s Sea, Swallow Me (Lethe Press). Once again mining his own unique vein of interstitial fiction (to use the author’s own description of his work), this collection continues his proclivity to depict stories that are simultaneously fantastic, folkloric, mythic, and sometimes horrific from the perspectives of oft marginalized social groups (in particular, LGTB people and African-Americans, or mixed variations thereof). Whereas his first collection mostly concerned itself with male protagonists, here the majority of his narrators and main characters are women, which makes for an interesting change of pace, and the fact that all of the ten stories revolves around the issue of race (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, sexuality) gives the collection a nice unity of effect.
Read the rest of the review here.
My dark fairytale retelling, Fur & Gold, gets a lovely review:
Gidney presents a prequel of Beauty and the Beast, mining from the queer notes of Jean Cocteau’s work as a whole, and the fantastical breaking of boundaries. The Beast here is a more sinuous creature, both savage and beautiful, warring between animal instinct and fleeting grasps of humanity. There is a new sense of the curse from man to beast being an unknowing and tantalizing transgression, rather than a stock moral lesson. This is the start of a series of new fairy tales, so come back for more.
I am currently writing the second in this short series; the series is called Variations.
Critic Amos Lassen says of Bereft,
There is no happy ending here and I doubt there ever will be if we do not live up to our responsibilities to make the world a better place for everyone. I suspect that there is a lot of the author’s own life here but even if there is not, I believe we can all agree that we do not yet live in a world that is free of racism and homophobia. It is surprising that we have to be reminded of that. If we do have to be reminded, I am glad that it is Craig Gidney’s powerful and beautiful prose.
Read the whole review.
All of the reviews I’ve read about A Stranger In Olondria talk about it being about bibliophilia, that is, the love of books. The love of books certainly does run through the novel, but I actually think it’s more about spirituality—with the written word being the locus through which transcendence is achieved.
The form the novel takes is the bildungsroman: a novel about the initiation of a youth into the wider world. Jevick is the son of a prosperous pepper merchant, a tyrant of a man who has two wives and controls a plantation on a tropical island. When it becomes clear that Jevick’s older brother is unfit for inheritance, Jevick is trained to be his father’s successor. A tutor from the distant, northern land of Olondria is hired, ostensibly to teach young Jevick the language and customs of that land in order to be a competent trader. But the tutor instills in the boy a love of the written word and an obsession with the exotic land. Jevick eventually travels to Olondria on his first routine trade trip, and—very much against his will—becomes literally haunted by the ghost of Jissavet, a young woman and fellow islander he met on the voyage from the Tea Islands. Ghosts, in a heretical Olondrian religion, are considered angels, and those who communicate with them are living saints. When Jevick’s haunting becomes public knowledge, he is placed under arrest and becomes the unwilling pawn between two religious factions.
In spite of this fairly complex set up, the novel isn’t about politics. The narrative form is that of the memoir, or its even more antiquated cousin, the philosophical romance. Jevick’s narrative meanders, often interrupting the narrative flow to quote poetry or bits of Olondrian philosophy. It’s slow, and richly descriptive—a marked difference the often breakneck pace of other fantasy novels. At times, the book becomes a travelogue—kind of like the books written by John Berendt (e.g., Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). Because of this solemn quality, the magic and the world-building is organic and believable. Other times, it has the elegiac melancholy of Hermann Hesse’s novels (particularly Steppenwolf and Siddhartha). The land of Olondria is a character. The country has a Mediterranean feel, in its fauna and cultures. The imaginary religion borrows from Hinduism and Egyptian mythology with a dash of decadence, resonant of the Greek mysteries.
The novel’s ending is ambiguous; no magic ring is recovered or kingdom conquered. Rather, Jevick, and Olondria itself, are spiritually changed. A Stranger in Olondria is a richly rewarding experience for those who love prose poetry and non-traditional narratives. Sofia Samatar’s debut novel is a fine exemplar of bibliomancy.
Pepper is a working class furniture mover who, through an act of misguided gallantry, and the laziness of the a trio police officers, gets thrown into a psychiatric unit in Queens. What is initially supposed to be a 72-hour hold turns into a months long stay, due to bureaucratic incompetence and Pepper’s foolish decisions (a failed escape attempt among other mistakes). After being drugged and reprimanded, Pepper finally acclimates himself to the ward, he meets his fellow patients/prisoners and learns their back stories. Loochie (or Lucretia), the nineteen-year bipolar young woman who’s been in and out of hospitals for most of her adolescence and has a wild temper and can kick ass if need be. Dorry, an old white woman who’s been in the ward for decades and is full of wisdom. And Coffee, a Ugandan refugee who is obsessed with contacting the president and letting the world know about the miserable conditions at the New Hyde psychiatric unit.
And miserable the conditions are. The building is in need of repair, there’s a rodent problem, the administrators are overworked, and code violations are routinely broken. Finally, there is a violent patient, whom the patients call the Devil, who picks them off one by one. The staff seems to be in some conspiracy with the Devil, and steadfastly refuses to do anything significant to stop the murders.
If all of this sounds grim and depressing, it’s not. Humor—sometimes gallows and sometime Keystone Cops like—suffuses the text. There’s suspense, yes, but it’s also backed up by mordant social commentary about the state of public mental health and touching back stories for all of the characters—including various staff members. LaValle has created a horror story, a Swiftian satire, and a black comedy of errors in one story. Imagine Colson Whitehead writing One Who Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and you have some idea of The Devil In Silver. It’s a powerful novel, and I want to read more LaValle!
Sea, Swallow me, by Craig Lawrence Gidney
# ISBN-10: 9781590210666, # ISBN-13: 978-1590210666
From Lethe Press, Sea, Swallow Me is a haunting, heart-breaking and lush collection of short stories. Gidney explores the trials of being African-American, of being gay, of being human. His language is beautiful, his themes are unique, and again, mythology threads beautifully through very modern stories. I don’t think I’ve seen a more lovely blend of old and new.