Monday, October 27, 2008

Book/Magazine Review: Mythic edited by Mike Allen

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

While a relatively short anthology, what Mythic lacks in quantity is more than made up for with the quality of its selections. Each poem and story stands out as well as fitting the "mythic" tone the book is attempting to capture.

Right from the very start, I was already enamored by the opening poem, "Syllables of Old Lore" by Vandana Singh. One would think that the flow and beat of the anthology would peter out by that's not the case. Allen keeps the interest consistent all throughout.

There are some editorial choices I'd like to highlight. The first is the sequencing. The poems alternate with the short stories and if you're like me who reads anthologies in the sequence they're presented, this formula works. I can imagine my interest waning if I was barraged with poems initially followed by short stories and vice versa. As it is, Mythic gives readers enough time to digest and appreciate the poem that preceded it before moving into short story territory. The alternation plays off one another, keeping the reading experience refreshing. Admittedly, the length of the book (under 200 pages) also plays a crucial role in this and I don't know how better Allen would have fared had he used more material. Mythic is the type of book that you can read in one sitting keeping you mesmerized all throughout.

The second item worthy to note is that Allen is consistent in the sense that the poems/stories featured are readable and easy to understand. That's also not to deprive the texts of any lyricisms or beat they have to them. As I said in a previous review, I have this innate phobia of poetry ("I don't know how to read them!") but I didn't feel threatened by the ones included. As for the short stories, they're relatively short reads, with a few delving into experimental territory, such as "Of the Driving Away of a Certain Water Monster by the Virtue of the Prayers of the Holy Man or What Really Happened at Loch Ness in the Summer of 565 A.D," by Bud Webster.

The third factor I'd like to bring up is that Allen doesn't hold back in this anthology in the sense that if an author/poet's work really stands out, it was included--even if they already have another piece already featured. Singh and Theodora Goss for example have their names appearing twice. Not many anthologies do repetitions and I do think Mythic is a stronger anthology because of this inclusion.

Having said that, here are the top three poems/short stories that caught my eye: "Kristallnacht" by Lawrence Schimel played with my expectations and usurps the Cinderalla myth for his own. Aside from having a steady beat, Schimel ties it with the Jewish experience giving this simple verse an extra layer of depth and cultural identity.

Catherynne M. Valente's "The Eight Legs of Grandmother Spider" features two parallel narratives, one having this fable feel while the other modern sensibilities. Much like "Kristallnacht", Valente plays with the reader's expectations, not only thematically tying the two poem-stories but taking it into a truly horrifying yet beautiful direction.

Erzebet YellowBoy's "Misha and the Months" is one of the stories that stand out. Subversion seems to be a common theme of the anthology and this one is no different. Using old tropes, YellowBoy turns them around which makes for an interesting and refreshing story.

Overall, this was a great anthology that could serve as the perfect "breather" when you're overwhelmed by thick novels and collections. This isn't a "meaty" book when it comes to length but I think that's a strength of Mythic. What you get are the best of the best that follows a consistent theme and accessible language.

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