Jul 24, 2007

Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic

In the introduction to this book, editors F. Brett Cox and Andy Ducan write:
"More Broadly, what southern literature and the the literature of the fantastic share is a rootedness in a particularity of place - "landscape as a shaping force", as Alabama native Gregory Benford observed in his groundbreaking essay "The South and Science Fiction". The Mississipi of William Faulkner and Richard Wright and the Georgia of Flannery O'Connor and Alice Walker are akin to Bradbury's Mars, Tolkien's Middle-Earth, Baum's Oz, and the German forests of the Brothers Grimm. All are lands simultaneously real and imagined, luminously inventive yet as accessible and specific as the reader's backyard."
I found this a very interesting idea, and one I'd never considered before. Indeed, in some of these stories there is an acute sense of place, of a place both real and imagined, and the landscapes of the South merge with the surreal and the fantastic.

I could clearly see this intersection taking place in the book as a whole, but not in each individual story. Perhaps this is an unreasonable thing to expect, though. Crossroads is definitely a very varied anthology, and while diversity is a good thing, it also brings some risk - it makes it less likely that every story in the collection will appeal to any given reader, and this is what happened in my case.

There are some very good stories in this collection. The ones I loved, I really loved. However, there are quite a few others that didn't quite appeal to me, and unfortunately in some cases I couldn't quite see why they were in this anthology, except perhaps because they had been written by writers from the south. The kind of intersection I hoped to find here was often absent. That doesn't necessarily make those stories bad, of course. They were just not what I was expecting to find in this book.

A few words on some of the most noteworthy stories:

"A Plate of Mojo" by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is the story of a black woman who succeeds where others expected her to fail and
is therefore suspected of mojo, or magic.

"Houston, 1943" by Gene Wolfe was one of my very favourites: it is a tale of black magic that reads like a dream, and it features appearances by characters from Peter Pan, Treasure Island and Edgar Allan Poe's tales.

"The Specialist's Hat" by Kelly Link is a beautifully written story about two neglected young sisters living in a haunted house.

"Rose" by Bret Lott is a retelling of William Faulker's "A Rose for Emily" told from Emily's perspective and adding a further horror to the story.

"See My King All Dressed in Red" by James L. Cambias is set some 20 years in the future, at a time when the whole city of New Orleans has been flooded. In this sad tale, a couple returns to the flooded city for one last Mardi Grass, and one last goodbye to its traditions.

I expected Daniel Wallace's story to be one of my favourites in the collection, and the fact that unfortunately this wasn't the case at all largely contributed to my feeling of mild disappointment. It also didn't help that my favourite stories were all in the first half of the book. I felt progressively disenchanted as I moved through the second half.

But I do not mean that this was a bad anthology, not in the least. There is certainly something here for everyone: ghost stories, fantasy, science fiction, horror, seemingly realistic tales, conventional southern tales. It is just hard, in the midsts of this great diversity, that a single person will like the entire book.

This was my second and last extra read for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge. Thank you Maggie! Thanks to this challenge I read some wonderful books I might not have picked up otherwise.

Other Blog Reviews:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On


  1. Hmm, not much of a short story fan. But! You should submit this to John at The Book Mine Set for the November Bookworms carnival! He's going a short stories theme.

  2. I'm with dewey, I can never get into short stories. Just when they are getting good bam! They are done. Not a cool thing. LOL.

  3. I may have to check this one out. I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but I keep reading them perhaps hoping someday I will be. Haha Anyhow, some of the stories do sound good.

  4. What a cool book! I was curious about this one when you first posted about it. I think I'll be picking this one up. This is an anthology that I would've never thought of....Southern Fantasy...very cool. "See My King All Dressed in Red" sounds like something I would enjoy for obvious reasons and I love the title of that story. The Gene Wolfe story sounds really cool too. I love stories that incorporate characters from other tales.

    I was so happy to see a non-Harry Potter post on your blog :) I missed reading your blog. I should be finished Harry Potter tomorrow and then I can finally read everyone else's reviews!

  5. Sounds interesting, I like that it involves different fantasy realms and characters. It's always a shame when you don't like the second half of a book though, it makes it that much more difficult to finish.

  6. Hmmm...that is quite an interesting idea put forth in the introduction. Something I don't think I would have ever stumbled across in my own mind.

    I must say that the stories you mentioned as enjoying sound quite intriguing. I don't generally read a lot of short stories, though I have more in the last year when I started homeschooling Annie. Sounds like I might have to check out some of these stories (though I probably won't read the whole book)...if they're "Annie appropriate", maybe we can use them for school. The ones you described certainly sound as if they would appeal to both of us.

  7. Your post made me really curious about this book. Kelly Link is a contributor? Cool.

    I will have to check to see if the local library has a copy of this available. I like the idea of "landscape as a shaping force" - it's an idea I have always been interested in.

    Thanks for the recommendations.

  8. Great review! I have had problems with short stories lately.

  9. You know, Nymeth, you are killing me!! My TBR pile (ok, ROOM) is getting so full, and YOU keep posting these wonderful sounding books!! Great review, and I will have to definitely check it out!!

    By the way, SciFi Chick tagged me for a blogging meme. Kind of cool, actually. Now, I'm tagging you!

  10. Dewey: I think I will!

    Mailyn: I understand that feeling quite well, even though I do like short stories. But I think that the really, really good ones are the ones that manage to be satisfying despite their limited length.

    Literary Feline: Oddly enough, that is more or less what happened with me. I wasn't much of a fan of short stories, but I made myself keep on reading them, and eventually I gained a whole new appreciation for them.

    Chris: I thought of you when reading that one story. I like how it's not over-dramatic nor preachy in a "look what will happen unless you do something about it!" kind of way, and yet, perhaps exactly because of that, it gets that message across perfectly. It's also beautifully written. And sorry that I did nothing but blab about Harry Potter for such a long while :P But I'm sure you know how it is. I really look forward to reading your thoughts on it!

    Rhinoa: It really is. I would have finished sooner if I'd liked the second half as much as the first.

    Debi: I don't think I'd have thought of that myself either. Some of the stories are a bit violent, but there are others I think Annie could enjoy. The one by Kelly Link, for example, is spooky but not too scary. I wouldn't recommend some of the others for younger readers, but you'll see when you take a look at the book.

    Dark Orpheus: Kelly Link is one of those authors I keep hearing about, but I have yet to read one of her books. Judging by this short story, though, I think I'll like her work a lot.

    Myutopia: Thanks! I've noticed that I need to be in a special kind of mood to read and enjoy short stories. Novels are certainly easier to read for me.

    Stephanie: A whole TBR room :o And thanks! I'm sure there are stories here you'd enjoy. I'll head over to your blog to see the meme now!

  11. I think you've convinced me to try this out. Must check the local library.

  12. I'm not very big on short stories either but some of these sound quite good. And, congrats on finishing Maggie's challenge!

  13. Swing by my blog. Have a laugh on my behalf.

    OK, that wasn't meant to rhyme. LOL>

  14. Iliana: Thanks!

    Mailyn: I hope you like it if you do get around to reading it.

  15. Many thanks for your thoughtful comments. Andy and I knew when we took on this project that the range of stories we wanted would, inevitably, lead to some people liking some stories a great deal while asking of other, "What is _that_ doing _here_?" But one our main goals was, as you noted, diversity, and I think we achieved it. And I'm especially pleased that you read our book as part of a "Southern Reading Challenge." Thanks for keeping the conversation going.--Brett Cox

  16. You certainly did achieve it. And it has the advantage of assuring that almost everyone will find a few stories they'll really like. By the way, I really liked your own story in the anthology. Thank you for commenting, and thank you for this book.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.