Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mothers & Other Monsters by Maureen F. McHugh

Ok, time to stop reading blogs, magazines, and various other crap I have lying around the house and write something for you. I recently discovered that I don’t know when to use “lie” and “lay.” All I know is that I am usually quite wrong. This was pointed out to me by a terrible primetime cartoon, so I guess I should add ‘stop watching TV’ to my stoppin’ list. TV should never make one feel bad about oneself, it should only foster feelings of superiority and/ or delirium.


MOM by MFM is delicious, fantastic and is likely the best short story collection that I have ever read. The structure is one reason for my panting topic sentence-- the tone of each story fluctuates through the book so the stories don’t run together, the subject matter and types of characters change (sometimes delightfully drastically) with each story and the writing is so intelligent, you’ll be spinning new brain threads for days after putting it down. MOM stands up to at least one reread (that’s all I have done so far), so it is worth owning and loaning. Also it is from Small Beer Press, which means you should buy, buy, buy from this fantastic small publisher now, now, now.

Ahem. Ahem.

So what are the stories actually about? Well, let me start by say that MFM is a science fiction writer. After that sinks in and creates all kinds of WRONG and STUPID stereotypes in your head, let me crush those ideas by saying that MFM writes about life in a beautiful and sometimes painfully acute way. Also in a weird way. Perfectly weird.

The book opens with ‘Ancestor Money’ a story about a long-dead American woman named Rachel whose Heaven is disrupted by a shiny, red and beautiful letter from dead-China informing her that she has received some ancestor money from a granddaughter she never met. Mc Hugh manages to make her character real in those circumstances; my favorite detail is how Rachel’s illiteracy (not uncommon for a Kentucky woman born in 1892) was “one of those things that had solved itself in the afterlife.” In Rachel’s afterlife, many things had solved themselves, quietly, and because of her personality, which is revealed just enough by Mc Hugh to make the story work, that is the perfect heaven for her.

The next story, ‘In the Air,’ is a unique take on haunting wrapped in a chick-lit story. It surprised me.

As the stories go on a few recurring plot points emerge: Alzheimer’s disease, lost children, running away or being forced to leave, the terror of new beginnings. Whether in a story about post-Civil-War Southerners shipped out to the Okalahoma territories as punishment for owning slaves, or a tale about a remote, communistic community on a harsh planet, Mc Hugh’s themes are present and insistent, without clouding her imaginativeness.

One story where her imagination really caught mine was in ‘Interview: Any Given Day.’ This is science fiction at its best, my friends. MFM gives us a world where rejuvenated baby boomers develop a viral disease that is devastating to actual young people. It is sexually transmitted. The story is told as if it were viewed on a webpage, in pitch-perfect NPR (here NPI, National Public Internet) format. The faux-hyperlinks were surprisingly un-annoying and the format (which isn’t actually all that unusual looking) adds something great to the story. Read it now.



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