Rush-That-Speaks (rushthatspeaks) wrote,

Black Juice, Margo Lanagan

I'd been wanting to read Black Juice for a while. It's been getting a lot of buzz and various bits of it have been nominated for quite a few awards lately, and this is rather odd for the first American-market book of an Aussie writer shelved under YA, especially when said book is a short story collection. So I figured it had to be something special.

Special, yes; brilliant, yes; YA, not particularly; and I'm not at all sure I actually want to recommend it, because it hurt me, and I can't tell yet whether it hurt me in a good way.

Frickin' masterpieces. Books do not usually hurt me in a way that lasts. I suspend disbelief while I'm reading, certainly, meaning that I can be temporarily upset, and of course books propose new ideas and cause me to ponder new viewpoints and consequently have major long-term effects on my personality and life. I do not usually cry through a book and then wake up the next morning crying.

At any rate, there are ten stories in the book, and none are duds, though some are a little weaker than others (for the record, I thought the pacing was off on 'Red Nose Day', didn't think the decisions made in 'Earthly Uses' were quite explained enough, and though I quite liked 'The Wooden Bride' would like a lot more context). The first one, 'Singing My Sister Down', is the most powerful sixteen pages I've run across in quite a while, and packs more into itself than many books do, and made the process of mourning fresh and powerful in a way that caused me to start doing it all over again for several people I'd thought I'd already grieved for.

The rest of them are also harsh stories, hard stories, although not as unrelentingly. There are ruptured families in this book, violence both personal and impersonal, grievous wounds of flesh and spirit, horrible monsters both human and not, blood in extraordinary quantities and lives entirely or mostly without any hope of freedom from pain. There is also an impressive collection of old women (mothers, grandmothers, one Queen) who are quite as strong and wise as they think they are. There are families who are each other's shelters, and young people who learn things that will help them grow up without suffering, and a calm, gentle eye for and love for the natural world and its smells, flowers, sky and animals.

In short, it's a very human book, with the good inextricably tangled with the bad, and beautifully executed, though possibly a bit much if read in one sitting.

And watch out for that first step; it's a doozy.
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