Monday, November 10, 2008

Book/Magazine Review: Unwelcome Bodies by Jennifer Pelland

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
I used to think that Jennifer Pelland's writing was modern, both in her themes and writing style. It was only after I finished reading her short story collection, Unwelcome Bodies, that I figured out what sets her apart when it comes to the latter. That element that stood out the most for me was that Pelland's blunt and direct. There's no flowery prose here or indulgent scenes which are too detailed. Instead, the author focused on the other attributes of the story such as plot and characterization. Pelland managed to pull it off and created, at the very least, interesting reads.

Unwelcome Bodies is a mixed bag. There are some stories that did stand out but there are also others that are ho hum and could have gone further. Or maybe it's a matter of expectations. "Last Bus" for example stood out like a sore thumb mainly because it's a cute and optimistic story--a stark contrast to the other stories which are dark and heavy. I find Pelland at her best when she's trying to evoke the reader's sense of fear or disgust and she usually does so by creating compelling and well-rounded (albeit dysfunctional) characters that tug at your emotions in different directions.

Having said that, here are the three stories that stood out: "Big Sister/Little Sister" is one of those visceral texts and is an example of territories which Pelland is willing to cross and does so effectively. It's like watching the most horrible crime you've ever seen in your life yet you can't turn away. But what also struck me about the text is that early on, Pelland makes you sympathize with the protagonist, making the tragedy all the more horrific.

"Captive Girl" is another strong piece as it tackles an unconventional relationship. I think the best way to describe Pelland here is that the emotions she evokes are polarizing. Again, much time is spent on characterization and makes readers ponder the question of what is love for them--and what they're willing to give up.

There's a certain rawness in terms of writing when it comes to "Firebird" but for the most part, it works. The template of the story is a perfect fit for Pelland's writing style as she creates a convincing teenager. Again, characterization is Pelland's strength as she draws the reader in to the point that we forget we're actually reading a journal-like narrative.

Overall Unwelcome Bodies has some outstanding stories as well as some mediocre ones. Pelland features dark and horrific stories which are grounded in character, some of which could only be told using the medium that is science fiction.

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