Currently reading

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Michael Holroyd, J.L. Carr
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Snow and Shadow

Snow and Shadow - Dorothy Tse I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is a beautiful collection of allegorical short stories written in poetic prose. The ideas here are so dense and thought provoking that it took me a few days to read it, even though it isn't long. When I started out, I wasn't sure what to make of the warning in the blurb for the book about not being for the faint of heart and body parts falling off. I don't read horror, I don't enjoy violence. But I think the warning is a little misleading. Yes, body parts get detached far more often than is healthy (is it ever healthy?), but they are symbolic just as everything else is here. This is not a gory book. Let me give a couple examples, since it would have helped me to decide to read it with more confidence. I don't know whether I should warn about spoilers, since this isn't exactly a suspenseful collection, but I'm about to summarize a couple of the stories.

In one story, we explore an imaginary city in which women sell their bodies in the traditional sense, but men pay for their services by giving up literal body parts: arms, feet, eyes, etc. So men are the walking wounded, and the author shows us the impossibility of love in this town. With this introduction of an impossible symmetry in a highly asymmetrical subject in our world, we are forced to view anew the absurdity of our world. The point is not the gruesome process of removing body parts. The point is to view our society in a new light.

In another story, a couple competes with one another to suffer in giving each other gifts. They each give as much as they can, without stopping to either appreciate what is given to them or to consider what the other actually needs. The result is repeated expressions of love that are spectacularly ineffective. Ultimately they reach a frenzied climax and literally give each other sawed-off arms. Again, the point here is about giving in a relationship, about confusing suffering with love, which happens more often than we'd like to admit. The arms are metaphorical and I didn't see it as a gory episode.

So if you think you can handle that level of metaphorical violence, I strongly recommend the entire collection. I'm still trying to work through all the ideas presented here, and it'll be worth a few re-reads for me, but I love reading experiences that help me see the world around me differently. There are a few stories that I'm not sure I really got all the way, but they also gave me snippets of brilliance in metaphor, richness of experience.