From the Publisher
Starred Review, Booklist, October 1, 2007:
"While the stories always startle, they also often murmur about humanity's higher inclinations, including honor, compassion, and different kinds of love."
Starred Review, The Horn Book, November/December 2007:
"Lanagan's ten stories delve into the crevices of nightmare, tempation, and helplessness with a mixture of earthy dialect and inventiveness that makes this collection mesmerizing, sometimes horrifying, and occasionally funny."
Paul Di Filippo
…any bright, sensitive teen will immediately latch on to these emotive tales like a free-falling person snatching a parachute. But these are the kind of high-quality stories that will vibrate the nerves and heartstrings of readers of all ages…Lanagan is one of those rare writers of miniaturist intensity who is forging a name and career solely on her short fiction. A novel from her is much anticipated.
The Washington Post
Lanahan, whose Black Juice won critical acclaim both in her native Australia and in the U.S., will further enhance her reputation with this fine second collection of 10 stories. Driven by beautiful, often quirky language and deep psychological insight, these works demonstrate a powerful sense of the marvelous. In "Baby Jane," a boy on holiday hears a magical servant shout, "My queen is in difficulties. Is there a midwife here?... Any kind of leech, any wise woman," and finds himself in charge of delivering a royal child; a different sort of child, an emotionally needy girl who fears she will "die of her distress" after being separated from her mother for a night, must show some gumption and outwit the terrifying, baby-eating ogre Wee Willie Winkie in "Winkie." Other memorable characters include the dead souls in Limbo, who in "Under Hell, Over Heaven" earn brownie points by transporting the recently deceased to their final reward or punishment; and the eponymous "Daughter of the Clay," an unhappy changeling who travels to fairyland and decides in the end that it's best for her "to stay silent, on my bottom among the Clay, and fill my mouth with fish." Gritty, dark and sometimes very nasty, these stories are, at their best, worthy of comparison to the fairy tales of Angela Carter. Ages 14-up. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
This challenging collection of short stories, the author’s third, is a well crafted combination of many genres but with a fresh approach to each. Reading each story is like having every dream or nightmare you ever experienced written down word for word, just as it happened. The subject matter is life (and death) itself in bizarre snippets, the good, the bad, and the ugly, often from a point of view entirely fresh and surprising. It is perfect for a high school honors class for its original approach to craft and also for exploration of the often raw subject matter, but the guidance of a gifted teacher is needed. On the other hand, the stories evoke feelings that are deeply personal and readers may hesitate to share their reactions. The stories can be disconcerting to one’s world view and that should be kept in mind when recommending it for reading. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D.
Lanagan's searing prose and bizarre, whimsical vision once again pull together in a fascinating, baffling and rewarding collection. Ten stories, linked by recurring imagery of birth, childhood and otherworlds and by primarily first-person narratives comprise her third collection. From the opening, "Baby Jane," in which a young boy must deliver a baby to a toy that comes alive, to the closing, "Daughter of the Clay," in which a fairy changeling returns to her original world only to find it's not so easy to belong, each tale touches upon some mystery and truth of life in language and setting with metaphorical and internal resonance. Other tales concern monkeys vying for leadership, souls stuck in purgatory and a truly horrifying version of "Wee Willie Winkie." All are imbued with sadness and weight; Lanagan chooses her words so carefully that each sentence has the effect of a stone in a still pond. Bound to baffle and delight, this is not for everyone, but will reward the patient reader. (Short stories/fantasy. YA)
Read an Excerpt
“Well, at least it’s a fine night,” said Mum.
She looked enormous, but that was mostly the bedding she’d gathered as she hurried out of the hut. Her hair, coming undone from its nighttime tail, was a shock of silver on her shoulders.
“Though how we’ll sleep with this moon I don’t know. It’s like the floodlights at the Cricket Ground. We need to find a place in the shade. Not under these gums, though–if they drop a branch, we’re dead. Down by the creek there, among the casuarinas–”
A bellow interrupted her. Everyone looked up at the hut. Mum walked away down the hill, trailing a corner of the quilt across the moon-white grass. “And a good distance from that. That could go on for hours. Days. Come on, everyone, let’s get settled.”
Dylan followed her slowly. She wasn’t acting right. Anything to do with babies and births, Mum usually took over. She became queenly herself, moving differently, spreading a radiant peacefulness all around. She paused the world so the baby could land on it safely. Yet here she was, walking away from a woman in labor.
“I think we should get the police,” grumbled Ella, lumbering down the slope. She was pregnant, too; she was what Mum described as about ready to drop. “It’s outrageous. Whoever heard of it? Where did those people escape from–some kind of costume party?” Todd gave an enormous yawn. “Dunno what you’re moaning about–you weren’t asleep anyway. You never sleep, remember? ’S what you’re always saying.”
“I do never sleep,” said Ella. “Not these days. Or nights.” The family moved down the slope ahead, in among the darker trees. They weren’t nearly alarmed enough; that must be part of the magic. Dylan was panting, as if his body were trying to pump out the strong, wet-grass smell of bear and replace it with the proper bush smells of eucalypt and pine.
“Check for sleeping snakes,” Mum said when they reached the creek side, where the ground was flatter. “Bang about a bit.” So everyone stamped around in their pajamas. It would have been funny if Dylan hadn’t been so frightened. Weren’t they worried about that bear? Weren’t they upset about what had happened? It was eerie that they were positioning air mattresses and spreading blankets and plumping pillows. Titch and Edwin were already asleep–look at them. They hadn’t even cried. It was all a dream to them. Dylan pinched the inside of his elbow hard; he rubbed his arm roughly against a tree trunk; he breathed in and stared at the frills of white water along the creek, at the shadow people and the shadow trees, at the millions of stars above among the needly casuarina twigs. He smelled the smoke from the hut chimney. That funny man must be building up the fire. You needed boiling water when a baby was coming. What for? Dylan couldn’t remember.
“Come on, Dylan. Come and settle down between Dad and me. We’ll protect you against jibber-jabbers.” Her smile was the only part of her face that was moonlit. “Jibber-jabbers,” said Dad dozily. “That’s going back a long way. What were those things, anyway, Dyl? You never told us properly; you were too scared even to talk about that nightmare.” Dylan crawled up the valley between them, laid his head in the pillow cleft, and shuddered. “They were these horrible creatures, hundreds of them, about up to my shoulders. They had big heads, big jaws, lots of teeth. Jibbrah-jibbrah, they said, jibbrah-jibbrah-jibbrah-jibbrah. They rushed at me out of the wardrobe and snapped their teeth.” Dad snored gently.
“I still don’t like to think about them,” Dylan said to Mum.
“Don’t, then,” said Mum comfortably. “I don’t know where they came from in the first place–some movie? None of the others had such night terrors.” She closed her eyes with decision. She always knew what to do. Dylan tried to be as firm about closing his. They had rushed at him, jabbering, their eyes glowing yellow among the spines. And then a worse noise, a terrible rough growl, had stopped them, made them cringe, made them jabber quieter, at each other instead of at him. Zing! Someone had drawn a sword, over by the wardrobe. Then a white flash, and a snap, and they’d gone, and Dylan was sitting up in bed staring at the wardrobe and yelling into the empty room. Now, he buried himself deeper between Mum and Dad. The creek rustled and chuckled and blipped. Todd farted musically. Ella said, “To-odd!” “What’s your fuss? We’re out in the open air, aren’t we?” Mum gave a little laugh through her nose, and Dylan let his giggle out.
“Shh, now.” Mum turned on her side so that her face was out of the moonlight. Dylan followed the shadow line of her profile, from silver fringed forehead along to soft under-chin and lace nightie collar. Nothing could seriously go wrong with the world while she hung there, could it? Or while Dad’s back was all up and down his own? He thought he heard a sound from the hut, through the creek noise. He tipped his head so that both ears were free to listen. His body had tensed; he tried to go floppy again.
“Still, Doug . . .?” said Mum. Dad made an unwilling sound.
“He’s asleep,” whispered Dylan.
Dylan waited for her to speak again, but she didn’t. “What were you going to say to him?” he whispered.
“It is odd, isn’t it?” she whispered.
“It’s very odd. It’s really, really, really–”
“I mean, who are they? How come we just let them– Where did they come from?” Dylan lay there awhile. He breathed and she breathed, and when he thought, from her breath, that she was possibly asleep, he whispered, very quietly, “I found them.”
She lifted her head. “You found them?” He nodded. The moon jiggled in the tree.
“When? On your walk this afternoon? Up on the mountain?” He shook his head. “When we were playing hidey. In among the rocks over there.” And he pointed above his head, across the creek.
“What, they’ve been lying low in the rocks?”
“It wasn’t hard for them to hide,” said Dylan. “They were only this big.” He showed her with his thumb and forefinger.
“Stiff, you know, not moving. On bases, like those soldiers Uncle Brett paints.” He had held the little figures in his hand in the sunlight, waiting for Aaron to find him.