Two Twisty Books

Ever read a book and think…ooh, this is a lot like that other book or…oooh, are these authors twins or what? Sometimes, there is an evil twin. Not today. Today, these two authors clearly were raised beside a babbling brook and fed figs and persimmons in strong sunlight. There might have been a wasp sting once a summer, just enough to give them the edge needed to convey melancholy.




Sylvia Linsteadt wrote Tatterdemalion in answer to the artwork of Rima Staines, the way you or I might whistle at a bird’s song we hear in the forest. She transformed the melancholy, otherworldly part-people and part-Wilds into a tale of where humans lose humanity and then reshape it, but only after the worst kinds of tragedies.

Reading the book is like trying to understand a map out of a glove-box. The folds are in odd places, and you marvel at the geometry. Linsteadt’s work takes an historical narrative spanning three hundred years and makes you feel like you are squatting on your heels in among the rye grasses listening to a damselfly tell you about jewels.

An ‘endling’ is the word for the last of a species. We are making more and more of these forlorn creatures, and this book is clearly a warning wrapped up in earth-toned packaging. It is a folktale that taps into future work rather than reinventing past stories. Her language is slantwise and fey, and as we all know poetry works best for saying the hard things we need to hear.

(I will note there were more typos than could be easily ignored in this Unbound publication. I do not fault the writer or artist, obviously, but felt I should mention them.)


night garden

In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente is the first of a duology in which a girl-child with stories written on her eyelids tells them to a boy-prince. These fables full of fantastical beasts and witches and religion and love. They are folded one into the other with a telescoping effect or like crawling through a snail shell: glimmering and dizzying.

There are a few illustrations by Michael Kaluta. They remind me of the Children’s Anthologies I would find at the houses of adults as a child. A treasure tucked in between all the hard spines grown hunched from careers and chores and relationships.

The stories are short. Each section is only a few pages before you turn the corner to find another colored thread to follow. I’ve heard Valente say she wrote this book without an outline. I felt at times I needed an outline to keep up! Valente’s prose is also poetic, but lush. I’ve often likened her writing to Van Gogh’s painting. There is an immensity to it. One could read this book over and over and never tire of her sentences.

Interesting parallelism beyond their fabulist voices and winding story structures: both authors used to do by-mail stories. Isn’t that weird? Valente’s epistles are now in a collection, and I plan to get my hands on it!

(feature image is by Rima Staines)


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