Friday, January 13, 2012
Book Review: Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa L. Hannett
That's the impression one gets after reading Bluegrass Symphony, and it's a clever title for a short story collection. There's no story titled "Bluegrass Symphony," and the author provides an explanation at the end of the book, but just from hearing those two words, it already conveys a certain expectation — and the reader wouldn't be wrong. If this were the Philippines, I'd label Hannett's stories as provincial, but for non-Filipinos, the country, would be a better description. Hannett certainly captures that kind of atmosphere, even when she's writing all these diverse stories — and as an aside, another unfair fact is that eleven of the twelve of the stories in this collection are original to the book. They are all very good stories, immediately winning you over with tone and character, but they're also challenging that if you skip a beat, you'll miss out on important details. There's insight at the end of each story, but it's not necessarily one that readers will always welcome: Hannett's fiction seldom ends pleasantly, or if it does, it comes at a steep price. "From the Teeth of Strange Children," for example, explores various types of relationships (some predatory, some otherwise), in addition to contributing something new to the vampire mythology. The exploration of these relationships is what makes the story shine, and it's these mixture of emotions that give it resonance. I'm still on the fence when it comes to the the effectiveness of the ending in "The Short Go: A Future In Eight Seconds," but it's a memorable dystopia, one that Hannett writes convincingly through her effective characterization. "Down the Hollow" is transgressive and haunting, yet is brief enough and contains all the elements that makes Hannett's stories wonderful and unique.
Bluegrass Symphony is one of those collections that feels more like an anthology due to the author's wide range. This is easily a must-read book of 2011, doubly so since most of the stories aren't reprints.