Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Sounds and Furies: Seven Faces of Darkness" by Tanith Lee

A few weeks ago, I was on amazon to pre-order a book. Since they have free standard shipping on orders of $25 or more, I decided to take a little time to browse. There wasn't anything in particular that I wanted to look for, other than the pre-order. Always one to keep my eyes open for books I haven't read by favorite authors, I checked to see if there were any Tanith Lee titles. I have read a lot of Ms. Lee's books, but had not seen her book "Sounds and Furies" before. That rounded out my $25 shipping status achieved.

I enjoy a good short story. One of my favorites is "The Legend of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, although I consider it to be more of a novella due to it's 246 page length. As with any novel, I feel a short story should have a relatively distinct beginning, middle, and end. Even if the story goes on in future volumes. Having said that, there have been short stories I have enjoyed that contained just enough information about the situation the author is describing to then leave what happens next open to speculation. A primary rule of thumb for me when reading someones work is, 'when you reach the end, don't leave me hanging'. With short stories I seem to be a tad more lenient on that point. There is a difference between leaving a reader hanging, and causing a reader to become involved in your story enough to get them thinking about it. Leaving a reader 'thinking' is a key element to most short stories because after all...they are short.

Tanith Lee has a rather intense way with words. Her vocabulary is great, and she uses her knowledge of words artfully. Creating worlds of darkness...worlds on the flip-side of the mirror...she plays to the visceral. Her worlds can be garishly lush, or stark, but all play to the senses. Her worlds of darkness and the macabre are enticing. They lure you in and caress you (some more than others...a number of her tales have rather intense sexual encounters). I find her books to be page turners, and I have enjoyed consuming every book of hers that I have read...with her vast bibliography, that's a lot of books. She takes the more conventional subjects of vampires, witches, werewolves, dark and mysterious subjects in general, and turns them on their heads putting her spin on things by creating her individual worlds/interpretations. Are her works everyone's cup of tea? I have recommended her to a number of people, and have found things at a 50/50 enjoyment rate. Not everyone can groove on her writing style. For those who can't, it's their huge loss...

"Sounds and Furies: Seven Faces of Darkness" is a collection of Tanith's short stories, all of which have been published before in various publications ranging from 1987, to the present. Thankfully, I had not read any of them before. I find it so irritating when short stories are republished ad nauseum in short story collection after collection. One or two fell a bit short for me, but all have the vibe I have come to identify with Tanith's work. When I finished the book I was far from disappointed.

  • The first story in the collection "Where All Things Perish" is a period piece based around a fictional religious order known as the Lilyites, and a vacant house. The story tellers aunt lives near said house, and she fills him in on the homes was once owned by a devotee of the Lilyite way, who believing his wife a witch, locks and bricks her up in the attic.
  • The next "Midday People" centers around a woman who is visiting Spain (from what I could tell) with her husband. The marriage is far from a happy one, the husband being verbally abusive, and an all around jerk. This story centers around Chrissie, the wife, who one day notices a beautiful young couple in the square. Living in such a horrible situation, Chrissie starts to live vicariously through the couple, wondering who they are, etc. Ignoring the local custom of noon Siesta, Chrissie stays out to see her young couple as that's when they daily appear. Before long she gets a closer look at the two beautiful people (or are they) and she becomes 'entangled'.
  • "Cold Fire" is the one story I couldn't get into, a rarity for me when reading Tanith's work. The character's are on board a ship and are hired to tow an iceberg in a designated direction. All of the crew fall ill (due to some bad hooch) except one who tells us the tale. This story was written in a form I couldn't pin down which kept me from being able to immerse myself in the story. Cockney, Jamaican, a broken English with a Russian idea. Unfortunately, it made this one kind of a throw-away for me.
  • "Crying In The Rain" is an intriguing story that I felt to be set in a post-apocalyptic the future, at any rate. Life expectancies appear to be greatly shortened as the outside air is rather toxic, and rain carries some sort of contagion that is always fatal. The rich live under domes. The story centers around a mother and her children, and the potential sale of her eldest to a rich man.
  • "We all Fall down" is a very short piece. News reports globally that massive rose vines are growing everywhere. Ring-around-the-rosies....
  • One of my favorites in the collection was "The Beautiful And The Damned By F. Scott Fitzgerald". There is a virus going around. Once it infects a person, it corrects any imperfections making the carrier absolutely beautiful. Why? To entice others to come closer...and to get infected.
  • The final story is "The Isle Is Full Of Noises", one of Tanith's forays into the world of vampires. Her world, anyway. Yse (pronounced Yeez) is a woman writer living in an island of buildings. The city she lived in on The Sound was flooded, but some still live in this island of glass and metal. One day a piano washes up on the tree that has taken root by her apartment. This tale skirts both the real (as far as this fictional world) and the fictional (in the form of a dark story Yse is writing). A man she has a bit of a sad infatuation with is the inspiration for her story. As with all of her vampire tales, Tanith injects her ample and dark imagination into the creation of hers. There is also a heavy presence of dark sexuality, and she is very descriptive (as she frequently is). Other authors who use similar sexual encounters in their books, without Tanith's mind and articulation, can end up creating a repellent, rather than pulling a reader deeper in. (There is a fine line between an intrinsic sexual encounter, and gratuitous porn.) This tale exhibited all of the markings that I have come to know with her work.
Over all a fine read. Each story brings the reader into a different and intriguing world. There is the exception of "Cold Fire"...had I known where the language originated it might have improved things. (Interesting how one detail like that can take the wind out of a story...) The one that I could have used more from was "We All Fall Down". A very intriguing threat to the world...rampant rose vines. To readers who enjoy entering the occasional dark place, I highly recommend "Sounds And Furies".

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