Black Juice - Margo Lanagan
Margo was our week four tutor at Clarion South. She was a relatively unknown factor; the Psychic had heard she was brutal when it came to crits, whilst being a lovely person. But she went and won a handful of Aurealis Awards right in front of us, and thus instilled the Fear Of Margo in us all.
The awards were so much deserved.
The collection starts off with "Singing My Sister Down", which was responsible for all the award winning. I read it first, during Clarion (I believe because I couldn't sleep), and had to go on to read another simply because of the effect it had on me. Margo is an incredibly powerful writer. Her ability to manipulate emotions is exceptional, and she doesn't hold back at all. "Singing My Sister Down" was a punch in the gut. Beautiful story, but don't read it if, you know, you have to be in public any time soon after. You'll want some alone time. And a box of tissues.
I was quite fond of "Red Nose Day", although I found the title misleading as it had absolutely nothing to do with SIDS. Two men with large chips on their shoulders, assassinating clowns. It should have been funny, but instead it teetered in hysteria, from hilarity and horror, much the same way clowns themselves are supposed to be funny, and more often than not are sad. It's a surprisingly touching story.
"Sweet Pippit" sees her show of her knowledge of the importance of sounds. The names the elephants give each other, how humans sound to them; it's a sweet story, full of aural texture, and ends on a wonderful blend of hope and despair.
Actually, most of her stories left me in the bluer side of the emotion spectrum, but oh, she knows just how many shades there are to blue.
It's easy to write a nasty story. It isn't easy to write a brilliant, layered, textured story that will touch you in so many different ways that, at the end, you won't be able to say what it is you are feeling.
"Yowlinin" I found to be a surprisingly grounded story. Despite the appearance of the terrible yowlinin creatures and the death and destruction they bring (what I typo, I just typed 'brain'), it is a story that all of us, each and every one of us, has gone through. That first infatuation, watching them from a distance, imagining that they will feel the same. But reality rarely listens to infatuations, and dreams.
And then, the "Rite of Spring", the one story that didn't leave me in the blue, but edged me towards green. The only note to end on. Unfortunately this story was mildly spoiled for me during Clarion, but like others, I was left wondering whether or not he did have the power to change the seasons.
I like to think he does.
It's hard to review collections, as there is no overall story to rip apart, and no one wants to read a dozen small critiques. I can say that, overall, Margo is a gobsmackingly good writer. Her stories have so many layers, short stories shouldn't be capable of fitting so many layers without exploding, and are wonderfully complex whilst being simple at the same time. Her use of language and understanding of the right word in the right place is gorgeous, and I think all aspiring writers should read a couple of her stories just to see this. There is a lot to be learned from what impressions a mere sound can make. Treat yourself and get ye some Margo writerlings.
Verdict: one of the best short story writers out there. Shall be hunting down her other collections.