Rags & Bones is a short-story collection that I found when I was helping the boyfriend move house about two weeks ago. This was my finders fee for helping him pack up his clothes. I mean, I’ll give it back…
Anyway, all this means is that, to give each story its due, the ‘review’ will be broken down into parts. I’ll try and keep these short, but I make no promises.
That the Machine May Progress Eternally by Carrie Ryan
This was quite possibly the creepiest short story that I have ever read. The story follows Tavil and what happens after he ends up inside the Machine that he wanted so badly to investigate. What freaked me out the most was that Tavil’s beliefs changed so … extremely. He went from disdaining the people living inside the Machine to loving the Machine so much that he would be willing to die for it. In such a small snippet of story, Ryan managed to convey the change convincingly. The story spans years, if not decades, and that time progression is written so well . I think the character of the woman with the long flowing hair is used as a way to mark important changes in Tavil’s mindset. Definitely not a cheap trick, it is a superb literary device that works on so many levels.
Finally, I would just like to say that when Ryan describes the physical appearance of the other residents of the machine, I envisioned the future humans from Wall-E. The big blobs of humanity on their floating chairs, with everything they need available with the push of a button. It made for a bit of incongruous reading, since Wall-E is a kids’ movie (but, you know, a brilliant one) and this story is more than a little frightening.
Losing Her Divinity by Garth Nix
Garth Nix pulled off something in this story that I’ve always wanted to do. And that is tell the story as if your narrator is, quite literally, telling it to someone else. Sure there are books that try to do that, but they adhere too much to the novel/story archetypes of quotation marks and he said/she said. What Nix has done is made it so we can see both stories that are happening: the story that our narrator is telling and the story of how he’s telling the story. We get the impression that our narrator is being threatened into telling everything that he ends up revealing. Not only this, but these asides let us know that our narrator’s captors get impatient with his rambling. We get characterisation for characters we never see or hear. It is brilliant and I love it.
I have such a thing for structure, and this is one of the more flawless structures that I have ever seen. The story is fantastic, but it’s the structure that makes this work of fantasy phenomenal. Read it. Read it now.
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman never once uses names in this story. But you know who the characters are. And I love that. The raven haired beauty with pale skin and blood red lips, with dwarves for companions is, of course, Snow White. But Sleeping Beauty, now there was a twist. I don’t want to give away the ending because it is too delicious. Suffice it to say that Gaiman takes the stories that you know, entwines them and then sharply twists the ending. That ending though…geeze. You must read this story. but, if you do, I highly suggest reading the illustrated version. You can check that out here.
My favourite line in this story is:
“She was herself, and the name she had been born with had been eaten by time and lack of use.”
I feel like this line speaks to all fairytales, in a way. We know them so well and yet, the characters are caricatures. Princesses are virginal maidens and princes are heroes and witches are evil and haggard. What Gaiman has done in this story is to take away the names of our beloved fairytale characters but given them back their personality. And I love him for it.
The Cold Corner by Tim Pratt
OK…what the hell did I just read? This story just overtook That the Machine May Progress Eternally as the creepiest story ever. This line from the author’s notes about the story basically sums up the entire premise:
“It seemed to me that, if it were possible to meet the ghosts of our possible lives, there wouldn’t be just one ghost – there would be dozens, scores, maybe hundreds, sharing some essential qualities, but radically different in other respects.
This story is about a young man who comes back to his hometown after avoiding it for five years, and then constantly runs into different versions of himself. It’s terrifying. Imagine going back to your hometown and instead of seeing all of your high school mates who never left, you just kept seeing yourself, but a version of you that’s always just a little bit different. It’s way too deep a story for me to have read on a Saturday morning. Because this story forces you to think about what the versions of you would look like if you’d never left that job, that guy/girl, never gone to university, never pursued that dream. It’s unsettling.
I’ll just leave you with this quote:
‘Are … any of us … happy?’
‘Happy?’ he said. ‘Sure, off and on, anyway. And some of us are miserable. About like anybody, I guess … But every one of our lives is just a life, man.’
I mean … geeze, Pratt. Maybe give us some hope?