In this extraordinary short story collection, human frailty is put to the test by the relentless forces of dark and light, man and beast. Each tale offers glimpses into familiar, shadowy worlds that push the boundaries of the spirit and leave the mind haunted with the knowledge that black juice runs through us all.
Contents: Earthly Uses (2004) House of the Many (2004) My Lord's Man (2004) Perpetual Light (2004) Red Nose Day (2004) Rite of Spring (2004) Singing My Sister Down (2004) Sweet Pippit (2004) Wooden Bride (2004) Yowlinin (2004)
Margo Lanagan, born in Waratah, New South Wales, is an Australian writer of short stories and young adult fiction.
Many of her books, including YA fiction, were only published in Australia. Recently, several of her books have attracted worldwide attention. Her short story collection Black Juice won two World Fantasy Awards. It was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and the United Kingdom by Gollancz in 2004, and in North America by HarperCollins in 2005. It includes the much-anthologized short story "Singing My Sister Down".
Her short story collection White Time, originally published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in 2000, was published in North America by HarperCollins in August 2006, after the success of Black Juice.
Based on a Goodreads friend’s review, I went to the library in search of Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels. It was not available, so I borrowed a collection of short stories titled Black Juice.
A little review on the back by author John Marsden caught my eye:
“I want to hire a plane and write BLACK JUICE across the sky so that people will read these intense, rich, disturbing stories.”
Indeed, each story in this collection is richly described, dark and disturbing. Almost too dark to be shelved with books for “Young People”, but what do I know? I have no children and really have no idea what they enjoy reading or how sophisticated their tastes may be. Black Juice is beautifully written in a mature style that is suitable for adult readers as well.
Each of the ten stories features a young character, and explores his or her role in society and within the family. Many issues are explored – love, death, relationships, abuse, marriage, freedom. The stories are set in fantastical worlds that share some similarities to our own, yet are very different.
Some of my favorites in this collection were “Singing My Sister Down”, told from the perspective of a young boy who watches and sings along with his family as his sister is being punished for killing her husband. “Red Nose Day” is about two young snipers who go out on a shooting spree in revenge for past injustices. “Sweet Pippit” is a lovely and touching story about elephants in search of their beloved handler. “Earthly Uses” is a very sad story about a young boy who searches for an angel to bring back for his dead grandmother.
I will definitely read more by this author…later. Right now I’m emotionally drained.
I picked up this collection from the library, because I loved Lanagan's Tender Morsels, a novel I know I would've reread if I were a teenager.
The reader of these stories is plopped, matter-of-fact-ly, into Lanagan's imaginative worlds, places that are not our own but in some ways are familiar. For example, we may not encounter blobby, destructive monsters made from beetles in a rural village set in some kind of past (in the story "Yowlinin"), but we all know the pangs of unrequited love.
The first story ("Singing My Sister Down") has a "The Lottery"-by-Shirley-Jackson (an author I loved as a young teen) feel to it, though it certainly stands on its own merits. The most powerful story, "Red Nose Day" -- about clowns who are the upper-class in a city with a vaguely medieval feel to it (with one glaring modern exception) -- is creepy but with strong meaning. "Perpetual Light" sets us in a near-future when the young people all have allergies, while the 'olden-days' persons feel like they still have some old immunities left over, but there is still the need for daughters to separate from their mothers no matter their age.
Each story is its own little world, though each has a novelistic feel, reaching out into a larger world that Lanagan has us believing exists or existed or will existed, one day, somewhere.
Lanagan's writing is the best part of this collection. Even when a story has a misstep or flounders, it does good things. It has me wanting to try her novels again, as I think I may just be the right age (and have the right expectations) to enjoy them for the prose and the intelligent fantasy that they are.
What you are most likely to find in this anthology (and, from what I gather, in Lanagan's general work):
- Beautiful, horrific prose that captures a tone and voice unlike anything you've read before
- Characters that are broken and always changing
- Scenes and images that are branded into your mind forever
- Things that occasionally confuse you, moments where the story seems to float around as it describes something
- Moments where you are never quite sure how to react
Lanagan's faults are distinctly entwined with her strengths. That confusion overpowers some of Lanagan's stories, but when her world, characters, and writing align, they are a dominating force of fiction, of fantasy.
“Black Juice” is the first adult book that I have reviewed since I mainly reviewed many children’s books. So, the format for any reviews that I do for adult books will be a little more different than how I reviewed children’s books since I will be reviewing the adult books from my own perspective instead of towards the general audience that I usually do for children’s books. “Black Juice” is a Printz Honor book and is one of the earlier books written by Margo Lanagan and it details ten stories about various people who explore the dark side of human nature by going through dramatic and frightening situations during their lives. “Black Juice” may have some dramatic and mesmerizing stories; however the confusing plotlines for all ten stories and the lack of character development in each one may turn many adults away from this book.
The advantage that this book had was that the stories were dramatic and touching at the same time. Some of the stories that I have thoroughly enjoyed were “Singing my Sister Down,” where a family holds a small party for the boy’s sister who is sentenced to drown in the tar pit for killing the Chief’s son, “Earthly Uses” and “Yowlinin,” which is about a vicious creature that kills off a village of people except for one female outsider. Margo Lanagan had done a great job at making each story truly dramatic and intense as each character goes through a tragic event and they relate to the audience about what they learn from the event and how it changed their lives forever. Many adults will definitely feel sympathy for some of the characters mentioned in this book as some adults probably had to go through either a loss of a family member or witnessing a frightening situation and they have to figure out a way to deal with the situation at hand. This book has greatly taught the audience about the importance of respecting life and trying to live one’s life the best that they could.
Some of the disadvantages that this book had were lack of character development and how some of the stories were a bit too confusing to understand. All ten of these stories have lack of character development because the stories are set up where the audience is immediately introduced into a tragic event that the character goes through and each story fails to give a proper background story to the character telling the stories and the audience is usually left pondering about who the characters are in each story and how did the tragic event began in the first place. Also, due to the fact that there is no proper background story on each character and the fact that the tragic events presented in each story are never fully explained, many adults would find this book too confusing to read since they might want to know how the tragic event started in the first place and who is narrating the stories.
“Black Juice” has done a good job at explaining the dark side of human nature and how each character has to cope with the tragic events that take place within their lives, however many adults might not be able to relate strongly to this book since the lack of character development and confusing plots would frustrate them, especially if they want characters they can relate more to. So, I would probably not recommend this book to anyone who wants a story that has more character development.
I don't recall having read any anthologies before. I have tried out some random short stories but have not really enjoyed them. I picked this book up at the Caboolture Bookfest as I had Margo Lanagan marked as an Australian author I wanted to try out. I am SO GLAD I found/bought this & SO GLAD this is the first book of collected short stories I have read.
Such dark, sad, creepy tales that are riddled with anxiety of "what's". What happened? What is happening? What is going to happen?
I honestly liked all of the beautiful, emotionally engaging stories, this is definitely a favourite. And will be going on my to be re-read shelf.
Weirdly wonderful. Lanagan manages to capture whole worlds in her brief glimpses of strange and fascinating characters. Even though I would have welcomed longer explorations of each of her worlds, each story felt complete in and of itself. The imagery she uses is simply gorgeous as well.
I heard that Lanagan was an author to read, so checked out a book of her short stories - I don't usually really get short stories, but I give them a try every now and then.
Black Juice was definitely worth reading. I wish she would show this brilliance in a full novel (her one 'serious' novel, Tender Morsels, is excellent but doesn't live up to the promise of these short stories). Lanagan has an incredible talent for sketching out characters and worlds and making us care about them in the space of a few short pages. She is also a versatile writer: these stories are all strange (mostly set on the ill-defined border between an understandable future/past and outright fantasy), and all share a certain aesthetic, but in content and style they vary widely.
In general, Lanagan mostly focuses on the lived experience of individuals in bizarre situations. I know that 'focuses on the lived experience of individuals...' bit sounds like pretentious nonsense, but it's actually what she does. Religion and ritual are almost omnipresent in this collection - from primitive ritual executions, through ritual far-future re-enactments of 20th century weddings, through fallen angels, rites to appease the gods, charismatic cults, a church of clowns, and so forth - but the focus is not on the institutions of religion, but on how individuals life with and within these institutions. Similarly, familial relations are a constant theme - particularly the bonds to the father and mother. In a way, it feels like a collection of 'serious' and 'literary' stories that happen to have genre settings - except that there is nothing pretentious or dull about them, and the settings are an integral part of the method, which seems to be to explore how people work by putting them in unexpected places.
Emotion and psychological insight are well-served here. Action, less so - most of the stories are contemplative and quiet. Thrill-seekers should look elsewhere; so should hardcore world-building fans, because the settings are all amazing and inspiring, but are never clearly defined or or worked out. Some stories, needless to say, are weaker than others - but all are distinctive and memorable.
Worthy of particular mention is the astounding and award-winning first story, "Singing My Sister Down", which established Lanagan's reputation; my personal favourite, however, is the slightly unexpected 'Yowlinin' - a surprisingly 'ordinary' and exciting fantasy story about a town beset by man-eating monsters, told through the eyes of an orphan girl.
Black Juice has the flavour of a nightmare...nothing makes sense and you are groping for anything that might be familiar and give you a solid piece, even just a weeny piece, to set your toes on so as to catch your breath and take your bearings. Margo takes you way out of your Comfort Zone with her surreal worlds, like parallel universes, even by just the minimal spelling of "people" as "peeple", and I knew Margo had removed me from my safe little world.
Each story creates a slice of an alien and foreign culture...it is really just what travelling does or reading about a different time and place.And it unsettles and exhausts you.You desperately search for clues as the story rolls along , usually into areas you don't want to go, certainly not without a little more knowledge about where you are and what the Hell is going on!!!And rarely do you get the whole picture as in Real Life. And too often something nasty happens as in the story titled "Yowlinin". Although the second last story I made the mistake of reading it first and never felt safe thereafter!!! What a relief to read "Sweet Pippit" and suddenly realise I was in the company of elephants , even though disconcerted by the 'peeple'.And I was right to be!!!!
Margo happens to live in a nearby suburb and I don't really know what I think about THAT, but I do know I will probably just stick with her stories.
I will not write a true review this book for a variety of reasons. For the life of me, I can not figure out how to discuss the stories within this collection, not only because to do so would mean spoiling the plot, but also I can not figure out how to summarize the plots. For certain inclusions in the book, if I were asked what the story was about, I would be left with a blank expression on my face, no words on my lips, but a very specific feeling inside.
That is the crux of the matter. While Lanagan may not offer a tidy story with a beginning, middle, and end and while you may not even really understand what happened in the pages you've just read, you certainly do know how it felt to read that particular story. This feeling may be indescribable, but it is no less real. I found this an odd reading experience, enjoyable but mildly frustrating.
While the writing is splendid, all but three stories that I can remember simply stopped--they didn't have an ending. Sometimes the stories just stopped; there was nothing in particular that indicated a resolution of some kind. An event happened and was over or not. The criterion by which I was raised was that in a good work of fiction, the main character had to change in some material way, for good or ill. Only three stories showed that kind of change and resolution.
As I say, the writing is splendid, but I would have liked this collection so much more if the characters had undergone real change.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: As part of a public execution, a young boy forlornly helps to sing his sister down. . . . A servant learns about grace and loyalty from a mistress who would rather dance with Gypsies than sit on her throne. . . . A terrifying encounter with a demonic angel gives a young man the strength he needs to break free of his oppressor. . . . On a bleak and dreary afternoon a gleeful shooting spree leads to tragedy for a desperate clown unable to escape his fate.
In each of Margo Lanagan's ten extraordinary stories, human frailty is put to the test by the implacable forces of dark and light, man and beast. black juice offers glimpses into familiar, shadowy worlds that push the boundaries of the spirit and leave the mind haunted with the knowledge that black juice runs through us all.
Provides glimpses of the dark side of civilization and the beauty of the human spirit through ten short stories that explore significant moments in people's lives, events leading to them, and their consequences.
My Rating: Worth Reading, with Reservations
I should be honest: I'm rating this a wee bit harshly. The trouble is, the first story in the collection is one I'd read and re-read years ago and loved, so I had SUPER HIGH EXPECTATIONS for this collection, expecting every story to knock me over with a feather. They didn't. The collection was 50/50 for me: half of the stories I really dug, the other half had me scratching my head. That being said, and please take note, because this is praise: all of the stories deserve to be read, and re-read, and re-read some more. There's something about Lanagan's storytelling that invites the reader to come back again and again, to consider the situation, the layers, the symbolism, of each piece. Especially the ones that didn't click with me the first time, because those are the ones the beg for a more careful look. Fans of short stories should definitely pick this collection up and give it a go, and keep this around for re-reading. I'm not even a big fan of short stories as a rule, but I'm considering re-reading these tales again in the future.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. Given that this is a collection of short stories, there really is nothing to spoil. So instead of spoilers, you'll get some general impressions for each story before the wrap-up at "My Rating." The full review is at my blog, which is linked below. As always, comments and discussion are most welcome.
I picked this up after reading an article about YA literature that would appeal to adults. The article had a list of the top ten YA authors for adults, and Margo Lanagan was listed - and the only author I hadn't read. When the blurb about her books mentioned something about a clown massacre in Black Juice, I immediately put it on hold at the library.
The first story in this collection, "Singing My Sister Down," was awesome, and basically the only reason I gave this book three stars. The story was about a tribe's very unique way of applying capital punishment, and I could not put it down. I had such high hopes for the collection after that one story that all the others felt like a letdown... even the clown massacre story.
My major issue with the stories was that each story took place in such a fantastically different world than our own that I could barely comprehend each world before the story was over. Most of the stories had the feel of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," but never delivered on the final horrific twist. Maybe because I was expecting horrific twists, I couldn't appreciate the quiet nature of most of these stories. Maybe because I was looking forward to a clown massacre and even that story was so strange and confusing I didn't like it.
I might pick up another book by this author if it was a full-length novel and not short stories.
Each of the ten short stories in this collection should devastate you as a reader and as a writer. They are dark, uncompromising glimpses of vulnerability--not always human, and when human, not always precisely human--and sometimes that vulnerability does not end in a relieved return to safety. It is a marvel that these stories are told from such alien perspectives yet still fill us with so fierce an empathy for such strange characters in such peculiar straits. The one narrated by elephants is hardly the weirdest one in this bunch.
Only some alchemical economy could allow a writer to build such vibrant worlds with only the slightest intimations about them. The woman who wrote these stories knows a thing or two about beckoning the intuitive reader. If you need a steady trail of breadcrumbs, this stuff isn't for you. All the more goodies deep in the woods for the likes of me, then.
This is my third Margo Lanagan short story collection, and once again her storytelling has really amazed me! I still have Red Spikes to read of her collections, but I think I am going to read her new novel, Sea Hearts, next as I haven't read any of her novels yet.
Some of her stories move me (in one case to tears), some confuse me, and some are clever, whilst all of them have me thinking about them. One thing I do find is that I often need a gap between one story and the next. I can't just read through them one after another as I need time to digest exactly what happened.
To read very brief descriptions of the ten stories in this collection:
I was a little surprised to find people who didn't find this collection brilliant. Yes, they're disorientating. But for me, that's part of the pleasure: to be thrust into a new world, without the length to find out exactly what makes it tick, but to see it rather through the eyes of those who live it. And the worlds can be scary possibilities, they can be sad, but mostly it is just that for the course of the story, you believe in them. And the characters, amongst their different traditions and terrors, are true. That's my kind of short story.
Margo Lanagan is a great writer. I really enjoyed this collection. They are dark and some are quite disturbing, but nothing so scandalous as Tender Morsels. I really liked all of the stories except the weird clown one called "Red Nose Day." that one was really messed up.
I think I'll shy away from her short stories from now on. She truly is a great writer, but I was so disappointed with the short stories because they are just too short. As soon as I get to know the culture and new world she's created, it ends. Such a let down! I'll just wait for another of her novels to come out.
3.5 // impeccable prose and character voice. My problem was often that due to the in medias res nature of a lot of these short stories, I often only got what was happening by the time we got to the ending. That being said, the backhalf was a lot better in that regard!
Wouldn't class this as a horror, like it's described - only one or two I would class as light horror because of their disturbing story. It took a while to grasp each story, but they were good fantasy short stories, overall. Some didn't quite grasp my attention, but nonetheless were good.
Margo Lanagan's stories get under your skin. They seem to slide in sideways, exploiting gaps you didn't know you had, lodging themselves in the recesses of your mind.
Take 'Singing My Sister Down', the first story of this collection. The story's action consists entirely of a condemned young woman sinking to her death in a tar pit, watched by her blood-family (who have accompanied her onto the tar), her family-by-marriage (sitting "prideful" on the bank), random gawkers, plus some witnesses of standing in the community (the chief is also on the bank, we're told, where he "sat in his chair and was fanned and fed"). It's a horrible, inexorable, and very public death: a death to set an example, a death to give the satisfaction of revenge to the wronged, a death aimed in part at Ik's family ("we had to go out, and everyone had to see us", the narrator, Ik's younger brother, tells us; it is "like us being punished, too, everyone watching us walk out to that girl who was our shame").
Through the eyes and emotions of Ik's younger brother we, too, are forced to bear witness. Her family do their best to make Ik's final hours celebratory: "it did feel a bit like a party", the narrator says as they set themselves up for a picnic on the tar, with good food ("May as well have the best of this world while you're here", Ik's mother tells her, as she feeds her) and even some dancing. But nothing can get away from the fact that Ik is dying, as the tar claims her, inch by inch: closing over her feet, oozing up her legs, compressing her chest so she struggles to breathe.
Around midafternoon, Ikky couldn't move her arms anymore and had a panic, just quiet, not so the bank people would've noticed. "What'm I going to do, Mumma?" she said. "When it comes up over my face? When it closes my nose?"
We never learn exactly what was Ik's crime that condemned her to this fate; references to her husband's angry family, and to an axe handle, suggest this was domestic violence of some kind ("I always knew you'd be too angry, once the wedding glitter rubbed off your skin", says Ik's mother at one point), but we're told nothing else of either circumstances or motives, or of who Ik was before she was scared and sinking. The story lives in the moment, in the inescapability of death; there are no recriminations from the family she has brought to this pit, only the urgency of time running out ("I wished I had more time to think, before she went right down; my mind was going breathless, trying to get all its thinking done") and the need to see her off, as privately as they can on the community's terms, being "watched so hard".
The stories collected in Black Juice - eleven in total, although I'm only going to discuss a handful here - are, by and large, about communities. They're about families, whether biological or chosen, good or bad, nuclear or extended; they're about individuals struggling to work out their place within their communities, or to extricate themselves from communal identity, or to return after too long an absence; and they're about the land these communities are a part of, the often fierce, unforgiving land they live in and labour on, and whose unpredictabilities shape their lives.
Many of the stories, too, are told from the perspective of young people: adolescents learning their worlds, with one foot in the imagination and fears of childhood, and one poised to take them in search of wider horizons. Dot in 'House of the Many' is just such a character, growing up in a dirt-poor subsistence-farming village where behaviour is carefully constrained, according to rules that appear terrifyingly arbitrary from a child's-eye-view. An episode that stands out is when a boy breaks out into spontaneous song, within earshot of the tent of Bard Jo, the village's spiritual authority and keeper of male mysteries:
Then one day, when spring was on the way and they were all excited for the coming plenty, this boy threw back his head and sang... nobody knew who, but if Viljastramaratan had had four sisters and five brothers, dancing together, they might have brought these sounds out.
To the children listening, this is a marvel ("World upon world opened at their ears, worlds of lawless noise and play"), but to the boy's mother is to be feared and silenced. She is not quick enough, however; Bard Jo emerges from his tent, and, as the boy's mother "bent and swayed, holding her head, grinding her eyes", he takes the boy inside, and beats him so badly that "after that day no-one heard a sound out of him". When Dot gets older, he and his friends are initiated into the way of village manhood by Bard Jo, who explains the immutable importance of the structures of village life ("the working mothers, the fathers steady at the centre with all the wisdom"), feeds them drugged tea, and terrifies them via an encounter with some extremely noisy spiritual power.
Dot runs away from the village and finds new purpose and freedom, and all the knowledge he could ever dream of wanting, in the anonymity of urban life; but where a different sort of story might end things here, with Dot's happy escape, Lanagan has him return to the village, at length, to face the fact of how much harder he made his widowed mother's and his disabled sister's lives by his leaving. In this context, one person's new opportunity is another's crushing burden made even heavier.
There is a more positive, life-affirming departure and return - and coming of age - to be found in 'Rite of Spring'. With his mother too sick to carry out "her important business" of a mountaintop ritual to aid the season's shift from winter to spring, the task has fallen to the son she's long derided, impatiently, as too slow and "thick" to follow in her footsteps. So the narrator's journey is laden with family pressures - an unfavoured son long in the shadow of an over-achieving elder brother - but also with the expectations of a whole community on his shoulders, for his rite carries with it the hope of spring for a people living on marginal land, at the mercy of the elements:
The wind doesn't shriek or moan - nothing so personal. When the river took Jenny Lempwick last spring and half-killed her while we watched, it was doing what the wind's doing now, racing so strongly that a little thing like a person was never going to matter.
Like 'Singing', this story has essentially one thread - and most of that is the extremity of the journey, with very little about the rite itself, beyond the boy's fear that he will live down to his mother's expectations, and forget the words. But it is grounded - and given grandeur - by imagery drawn from the natural world; the narrator can do nothing as straightforward as speak, under the circumstances, but rather, as he puts it, "I carve the words out of the icy air with my snow-blown lips". The return is triumphant, but quietly so, bathed in "all the dampness and the dazzle of the first day of spring".
A more pungent strain of natural imagery pervades the creepy 'Earthly Uses', which draws particularly strongly on a child's point of view - with all that implies, in terms of seeing things adults choose not to, but understanding less - for its effect. The boy in question lives an unhappy life on a tiny, remote farmstead with his Pa ("He's an old man and cranky, but he's all I've got, so I must put up with him, mustn't I?") and his increasingly sick Nan ("so small and grey and quiet [...] like a cooking and housekeeping part of him, not really her own self"). Pa sends him out to try to make contact with one of the angels that live in the hills and "stink like potatoes and death", or - as the narrator puts it, in more vivid detail than is strictly necessary - like "having mouldy dung forced so far up your nose it starts tearing out the back of your throat". The hope is that the angels might offer a way to heal Nan.
At first the boy, wandering deserted wooded paths alone, shares Pa's folkloric fear of the strange beasts:
"And their eyes - you look in and there's no-one in there that's like a normal man - they're just bright and bright, and empty." I didn't see eyes that day, and didn't want to. Even walking here through the angel-less darkness, the power of not-wanting-to-see-eyes makes me swerve and shake my head.
I love this: the way "bright" is made sinister, the way the boy's fear-but-fascination is drawn, creating a sympathetic itch of not wanting to look round at the back of my neck. Gradually, fascination wins out, though, because the angels seem to offer something different, something more, than a return to the cottage in the woods ("their smell was like crushed mint to my brain, breathing open new spaces there that I'd not the faintest notion how to fill"). When an angel does not cure Nan, but gives her the peaceful release of death, lifting her "up out of her own bones into its dark, dirty, soft, soft breast" - the softness of leaf mould, of mud, of decay? - the boy is set free, to leave home and seek a new community in one of the towns on the plain, far below the bitter spaces of the family farm.
By contrast, 'The Point of Roses' sees supernaturally-inflected nature bringing a family back together. Once again, Billy is a boy being raised by his grandparents - there's something very fairytale about this, as a recurring motif - although the setting this time is more small-town, or suburban. (There are no explicit markers of place, but it feels much closer to our world, and our present, than most of the other tales' settings.) Once again, the protagonist has a difficult relationship with an emotionally distant grandfather.
Here, though, the boy isn't the centre of the story. Although Billy is the (current) bone of contention between his grandparents, Corin and Nance, and it's Billy's boyish dabbling in magic, using one of Nance's roses, that sets the story in motion, the emotional focus lies with Corin and Nance. At issue is the way Corin's resentment of their children - the way they steal her attention from him ("He had fumed and raged against each pregnancy, and snarled and boiled and beat at the children as they grew, and railed at her for enslaving herself to them") - has caused the slow, drawn-out failure of their relationship:
It seemed to Nance that they had held each other in a death-clasp all these years, meanly squeezing until every scrap of colour was gone from skin and hair, until their voices held no juice and their eyes too much.
The torrent of "rose-ness" Billy's magic inadvertantly unleashes ("His lungs struggled, his skin dissolved, his thoughts turned to vapour as the rose essence passed through, roaring") proves the catalyst for the self-examination and reconciliation of his grandparents. There is some wonderfully idiosyncratic confessional dialogue ("being angry was a kind of paint [...] and I splashed it all over everything, and everything looked the same"), and finally a confrontation and frank discussion of the problem.
It's all done with considerable emotional resonance and generosity, and ending with a calm, achingly well-judged moment of quiet acceptance, in which Corin potters around the kitchen, "for the moment, in this house, in this room, moving from here to there gathering bread, gathering cheese and sausage and pickle, knife, board, plate". He is preparing a plate of food for Billy, just returned home, "though he was not, himself, in any way hungry at all"; learning, at last, the contentment of a selfless, loving act.
The final story I want to discuss, 'Red Nose Day', centres on a rather less conventional community - a chosen family, built on past abuse, and present warfare - and carefully walks a line between horror and absurdity. Adolescent soldiers are hunkered down with their rifles, making nervious conversation while they endure the seemingly endless wait for their targets to emerge from a dilapidated old theatre. The narrator asks his older, more experienced companion, Jelly, about their mission; Jelly replies that they will have fulfilled their goal, "When we've made a dent in the programme. When there's enough gone to give us a warm fuzzy feeling."
When the enemy appear, they are "so close, I could see the sweat beading through their pancake". They are, you see, clowns.
That would be the absurdist bit I was talking about. This is a society in which clowns are every bit as strange and disturbing as you always suspected; in which clown-ness (clownitude? clownality?) occupies the top of the social hierarchy, but is perpetuated at the expense of child abuse (the stars of the clown world get their pick of children in state orphan homes) and affects those involved in a way that resembles drug addiction. A small, bitter guerilla army is fighting back against the clowns, and "the people who keep the world running: riggers and sweepers, ticket-sellers and physio-therapists, with a sprinkling of top hats and tailcoats".
Lanagan gives us an utterly deadpan and - if you're prepared to go with it - highly effective melding of war story and circus terminology. Our shell-shocked, emotionally deadened narrator is numb to violence ("I didn't care, as long as the painted people were falling"), but sees the world in the language of the big top ("I could read him like a matinee poster"). The deaths they inflict are glimpsed as distant, silent, stage-dramatic tumbles, until the moment where Jelly recognises two of the victims, and suddenly the reality of pain and gore comes crashing in.
But the most horror-struck tones of all are reserved for the slow-dawning reveal of Jelly becoming possessed by the spirit of Clown:
But then. Jelly brought a foil out of his jacket. He unwrapped it too carelessly for it to be drugs. Worse than drugs, a white nub of something glowed in the gloom. My whole body pulled back from it against the tower wall. He didn't need a mirror. He drew a perfect white oval around his face from hairline to chin-dimple, and filled it in.
It goes on, all revulsion as Jelly adds more make-up, and his demeanour gradually shifts ("that terrible pretend childlikeness they have. The face dipped and floated as he stood, ooh!, surprised to find himself, why, here!"), for all the world like he's in a surrealist zombie film. I don't think I've ever been so creeped out by the appearance of a red nose before. Superb!
Well written tales that plonk you down in the midst of strange, mysterious and alien environments without any intricate explanations of why things are as they are. Shut up and shoot those clowns, sing your sister down, take the cheese to the angel and flee the beetles.
• Igor Kovalyov • APA citation: Lanagan, M. (2005). Black juice. New York: Eos. • Genre: Short Stories • Awards (If applicable): Michael L. Printz Award honor book, 2006. • Format: Print • Selection Process: Recommendation • Review: Black Juice is a collection of ten short stories set in marvelous and strange worlds. Often dark and even borderline disturbing, the stories feature a young character. The story examines these characters and how they deal with love, relationships, marriage, freedom, abuse and death. The stories are touching in their own ways often dealing with tragic events. "Earthly Uses" is a story about a boy who sets out on a search for an angel to bring back his grandmother. As each story pulls at various emotional events in someone's life. "Singing My Sister Down" is a story of a family that spends the night with their daughter as she is being execution by drowning in a tar pit. These stories although dark and grim are still intended for teenagers as it allows for the examination of the self through these stories. There are a few stories that did nothing to incite strong emotion they were still fascinating in their own right. Most of the stories develop deep, three dimensional characters that you can easily connect to. Many of these stories reminded me of "The Lottery" by Jackson which made these a fun read. I enjoyed the question that some of the stories raise about the morality of the society acting as a hole. Overall this is a quick and interesting read at the very least. Those who appreciate weird and strange events and worlds will enjoy these takes. With a much darker tone to fantasy this series of short stories opens us up to strange worlds which can at times incite some strong feelings. • Recommendation: Recommended
I’d been ploughing through some longer works for the past few months, and I felt like I just needed to read something lighter this week.
By lighter, I mean only in terms of physical size, because Black Juice by Margo Lanagan could not easily be described as light reading. Even though it appears in the Young Adult section, this little 200-page book of short stories packs a punch, and is as dark as its name implies. This is fantasy, but expect no elves or cute dancing fairies (oh, there are fairies, but not as you’d imagine).
Death features heavily as both a theme and an event around which her stories evolve. Her first short story deals with an execution. Then comes a betrayal, a shooting spree, a jail-break, a wedding (of sorts), a death, a funeral, and a plague of monsters.
Each tale is as haunting as it is beautiful. Lanagan has a rare talent of teasing the wondrous from the mundane, catapulting the reader into bizarre, unusual, confronting and often uncomfortable worlds. Her writing tips you off centre, leaves you bewildered, clutching the little clues she offers like Hansel and Gretel morsels, inexorably leading you to the witch’s house.
Lanagan does not simply hand you a tale to swallow whole. She makes you work for it, but oh, it is so worth it. A fabulous book by a truly gifted Australian talent.
"Black Juice" is Margo Lanagan's collection of riveting 10 short stories. The stories range from far and wide. As part of a public execution, a young boy forlornly helps to sing his sister down...A servant learns about grace and loyalty from a mistress who would rather dance with Gypsies than sit on her throne...A terrifying encounter with a demonic angel gives a young man the strength he needs to break free of his oppressor...On a bleak and dreary afternoon a gleeful shooting spree leads to tragedy for a desperate clown unable to escape his fate. The stories are very different, but they all have one thing in common and that is the examination of the human existence and the notion that evil can be apart of us all. This evil is the Black Juice.
When I was younger I used to steer clear of short fiction because I felt that the stories were just too brief to really invest my time in. But now that I am older, and a writer myself, I am truly beginning to appreciate the art and craft of short fiction, and Lanagan executes these stories masterfully. The stories are weird and strange, but oddly captivating. They are written toward a young adult audience, but adults could easily take something away from these compelling stories that never quite leave you once you read them.
This was such a strange little collection of short stories. All of them started right off in the midst of strange locations or strange cultures, and you had to just figure things out as you went along. And by the time you did, the strange, disturbing little story was over. Everything was very dark and mysterious, and I was sure if I was supposed to like or loathe the protagonists. A little of both. The theme was about tapping into those dark places that everyone has, that you don't want to quite admit to harboring inside you.
Short stories are interesting, because it seems like authors can sometimes play more with really strange stuff -- ideas that would be hard to maintain for an entire novel (in one, the protagonist is an elephant, communicating telepathically with his fellow elephants as they take off in search of their lost keeper). The imagination on display in all of these stories is what fascinates me, and makes me despair, yet again, for seeming to have so little imagination of my own to come up with something unique.
Lanagan is an Australian author, and the other-ness of the little bits of worlds she has created in these short stories is a wonderful change of pace.
Her book, Tender Morsels shows up in the 2009 list of honor books, and I'm looking forward to that, as well.
Нечастий випадок, коли кумулятивний ефект збірки перекриває суму вражень від усіх окремішніх оповідань. А тут ще й російське видання фактично містить півтори авторські збірки, складові яких непогано почуваються разом. Оповідки Ланаган місцями too weird і не завжди сюжетно цікаві, але післясмак у них шикарний. Її світи, мов марево над вогнищем, - усе, ніби, як має бути, але розпечене повітря підкреслює абсурдне, жахає незбагненним і змушує хихотіти над тим, про що в порядному товаристві не прохопишся. Трохи фентезі, трохи містики, багато дуже зл��х соціально-побутових замальовок - нелюбих дітей, розгублених чоловіків, нещасних жінок. Наречені тут шпацирують в паперових мештах, малі хлопчаки приймать пологи у королеви-амазонки, відштовхуючи ліктем ведмедя, зловонні янголи більше схожі на демонів, а добре виховані родичі мають влаштувати ритуально правильний пікнік на місці страти одної зі своїх доньок - власне, під час цієї страти. Є оповідання, які не вразили, але не має таких, що не запам'яталися. Це було болісно прекрасно. Хочу ще.
I’m really not even sure what to say about this collection of weirdness. I certainly can’t deny that Lanagan has a distinct style and writes in a way I can only describe as striking. These stories all came quite vividly to life, but unfortunately, they felt incomplete. I was completely confused through the majority of them, and the stories never felt really explained or properly wrapped up. I found myself reaching the end of each one and thinking, “where’s the rest? What did I miss?” None of them felt truly started or ended, which caused me some frustration and conflicted feelings toward the book. Based on her style, I think I might enjoy her full length novels, but I’m a little baffled and put off by this anthology.
So strange and inventive. I started this totally in awe of the world Lanagan creates in her first short story, and then watched and she created a totally new and unexpected place again and again. Totally recommended for fans of darker fantasy or short story readers.
The only reason for the 3 star rating instead of something higher: I am owning up to the fact that I am not a short story reader. I always start out enjoying them and then by the middle I'm so tired of it I don't want to go any further. It was a struggle to finish this, even though I knew how good it was. I'm off of short stories for awhile.
I checked out this book because it was a 2006? Printz Honor Book. I was amazed by the stories, especially "Sing My Sister Down", "Sweet Pippet", "Booroondooroon" (spelling?), and the clown story ("Red Nose" or something). These stories were so dark and disturbing and I love them all! I need to read "White Time" ASAP!