Black Juice Paperback – Feb 8 2007
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–Every selection in this rich collection is strange and startling, a glimpse into weird, wondrous, and sometimes terrifying worlds. "Singing My Sister Down," "House of the Many," and "Earthly Uses" use the death of a character to illustrate the trajectory that grief gives to those who surround those characters. In "Sweet Pippit," a group of elephants break from captivity to rescue the one human who can lead and love them. "Wooden Bride" centers on Matty Weir and her decision to change herself forever by participating in her town's anonymous group marriage ceremony, providing a sly, unconventional commentary on today's consumer-heavy wedding culture. "Red Nose Day" provides a glimpse into the hearts of two assassins who are killing clowns. "Yowlinin" is a story of ostracism and disaster; an outcast girl warns of a plague but is unheeded, with catastrophic results. The 10 stories all hover near a 20-page range. Lanagan uses beautiful, lyrical language to tell peculiar, disturbing tales. This collection may need some introduction, and would work especially well in a classroom setting; it is full of teachable moments. The selections are subtle and scary, and are remarkably different from most short stories aimed at teens. This book will satisfy readers hungry for intelligent, literary fantasies that effectively twist facets of our everyday world into something alien.–Sarah Couri, New York Public Library --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Gr. 9-12. Lanagan's 10 fantasy short stories are set in cultures both familiar and unknown and are peopled with empathetic characters who battle nature, individuals, and events. The stories begin slowly, in part because readers must acclimate themselves to new worlds and situations, but Lanagan gradually draws readers into each brief, fresh reality. Perhaps the most memorable story is the first, "Singing My Sister Down," about a family that lovingly crafts a celebration of grief as one of their own sinks deeper and deeper into tar pits. Other moving stories include "The Wooden Bride," about a bride who is late for her own wedding, and "Youlinin," a strange story of unrequited love. Each selection is carefully crafted and uses both familiar and inventive language to such intriguing effect that English teachers may want to incorporate the stories into classroom writing exercises. Frances Bradburn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Recommended for smart readers of any age.
While there are some elements of the fantastic in some of the stories, they are not the focus of these tales. These are not stories of dragons, wizards and fairies, although some may appear. Instead they are tales of the heart and the mind. They take us deep inside the characters in tales where thoughts and not actions are the focus. A fine collection all around.
If you enjoy the introspective tale then this collection is for you. If you are looking for dragon slaying and spell casting, then you might want to check out something different.
I wish someone had warned me about this collection as well.
Lanagan is an intense writer of dark, emotional, human fantasy worlds. There are echoes of older cultures and languages buried deep in these worlds, a sense not so much as coming from another planet but as if reading reports from undiscovered country. It is the type of fiction that reads like literary reportage from a past frontier transported through time. Like something forbidden, these stories are a black juice indeed.
The collection opens with "Singing Down My Sister," a strange description of a ritual that involves sending a woman out into the center of a lake of tar. Knowing Lanagan hails from Australia, and having grown up with the tar pits of LA, it wasn't too illogical a step for me to imagine a sort of hybrid Aboriginal culture that appeared to be redressing some sort of wrong through an old, odd cleansing process involving tar. But no, this is clearly something else as the event at hand is actually an execution, a slow death in front of an audience with a wake built in. Equally fascinating and disconcerting, the effect is how I would imagine it to be watching surgery being performed on myself while fully conscious.
Short story collections by their nature must start off strong and bold. They must open with a story full of promise for the rest of the collection yet not be so strong as to let the reader down along the way. Reading "Singing Down My Sister" it almost feels intimidating to continue with the rest of the book. If the rest of the book is anywhere near this intense it might be impossible to finish.
Fortunately, the book wasn't impossible to finish. Unfortunately the rest of the book was equally intense.
Each of the stories contained so completely build their worlds - unique and richly textured worlds at that - this it is possible for each story to sustain its own book. "Red Nose Day" delves into a dark world full of professional clowns and the hitmen who kill them, with more than a hint of allegory aimed at the Catholic church. "The House of Many" posits a clash of parallel worlds that fluidly includes a Middle Ages cult surrounded by a more contemporary society rich with cars and candy. Demonic angels that help children break free of oppressive adults. Queens who prefer the company of dancing gypsies to their own kingdoms. Lanagan plucks the familiar image and icon and from our consciousness and folds them deftly into something new, a magical literary origami.
I think the warning I would have wanted was more in the form of advice. I think these stories should be savored slowly, with a lot of space between them. Perhaps as ways of cleansing the palate between other books. One after another, the power in these stories makes reentry into the world difficult. Better to dip into these waters with some reserve.
Whether this has helped me to better enter the world of Tender Morsels has yet to be determined. As it stands, I feel richer for the diversion.
While there is no story with the title “Black Juice” in this collection, that phrase is very appropriate for the flavor of these strange fantasies. I know that Lanagan is from Australia and, while some of the stories have obvious Australian settings, others could occur anywhere. I also know that she wrote children’s stories for a few years before moving up the age scale into the ‘Young Adult’ category. However, that label can be misleading here. She writes fantasies that are beautifully written, highly metaphorical meditations on surreal settings that would be utterly natural within the realm of a dream and yet strangely unsettling if one tried to place them in this world.
The opening story, “Singing My Sister Down,” sets the tone for the collection. Told from the point of view of a boy who, along with the rest of his shamed family, must participate in his sister’s public execution by forced sinking inside a tar pit. The very casual and natural tone of the narration is reminiscent of the horrific Shirley Jackson story, “The Lottery,” with a Down Under setting. The girl, her family and all the spectators accept the entire ceremony as a perfectly natural form of justice.
Another story, “Sweet Pippit,” is told by one of a herd of elephants searching for their human keeper, whom they perceive to be in some sort of danger. “My Lord’s Man” deals with a servant’s reassessment of his mistress’s urge to dance with the Gypsies. In “Earthly Uses,” a lad’s quest for the aid of angels leads to liberation from the tyrannical force of his grandfather. “Red Nose Day” deals with hit men knocking off clowns. The most ‘realistic’ story deals with a young woman’s journey to her grandmother’s funeral but takes place in a highly toxic, polluted world. The final story in the collection, “Rite of Spring,” is, like most fairy tales, highly mythic and metaphorical about the ushering in of the next season.
All of these stories defy straightforward summary. The common thread running through all of them is a tone of naturalism struck by the narrators (all but one of the stories are first person narratives) in strange, familiar settings with obvious qualities that lend to the alien and alienating qualities of their environments. Almost the only aspect that might qualify them as ‘young adult’ is the fact that all of the protagonists are either children, teens or young adults. Many of them deal with the cultural expectations of parents or grandparents.
The ‘young adult’ label should not be a deterrent to any readers who claim that they never read young adult fiction. I would recommend this collection to anyone who appreciates the fantasies of Ray Bradbury, the horrific tales of Edgar Allan Poe or Shirley Jackson or anyone who ever loved Rod Serling’s ‘Twilight Zone.’
* Singing My Sister Down- This is a very sad story about an unusual tribal punishment, and my favourite story in this collection.
* My Lord's Man - A story about love, acceptance and misjudgement.
* Red Nose Day - An interesting twist on the typical clown story.
* Sweet Pippit - A beautiful story about elephants and their love for their handler. This is my second favourite story in this collection.
* House of the Many - A story about the fading of our childhood impressions.
* Wooden Bride - An interesting story about living up to our word.
* Earthly Uses - A twist on the concept of angels.
* Perpetual Light - Set in a future world where the air is unbreathable.
* Yowlinin - Monsters and outcasts of society meet.
* Rite of Spring - Singing in the season.
* The Point of Roses - This is my pick for third place in this collection. A boy with great powers influences others.
Margo's stories are magnificent, engrossing and above all, thought-provoking. My top three stories in this collection are Singing My Sister Down, Sweet Pippit and The Point Of Roses. All three of these stories are worthy of your attention.