Wednesday, 11 March 2015

In The Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne Valente

The stories continue in this second volume of The Orphan's Tales, and I am so ambivalent about what I'm about to say. I love Catherynne Valente as a writer, I do so very much, and yet. There is beautiful prose in this book, intoxicating stories, brilliant twists, interesting characters. And yet. The stories flow and interweave, and usually I love this kind of meandering and intertwining. And yet.

And yet. And yet. And yet.

It's not that they're not lovely. It's just that, plain and simple, there are too many. I can't keep them all in my head, I keep losing track where I am, and when references to earlier stories come up, I remember enough to go "I bet that's a reference to an earlier story!" but not enough to actually remember who those people are and why they were important.

As an experience, it's lovely and yet frustrating, because my memory (and I'd like to think I have a good memory) wasn't up to to the task. For a while, I thought that was the point, that the stories were about how everyone, everyone everywhere, has a story, and you drift by them without even realizing it. I would, I think, have been happier with that, because it's somehow okay to both recognize that everyone has a story, yet also not take upon yourself all the details of remembering every single one.

Then, at the end, it becomes clear that these two books of stories, most lasting no longer than 10-20 pages broken up into two or three chunks, are all circling around one overall story, and when I realized that, I self-flagellated even more, because by now I couldn't remember the stories from the book, and why they were important to the overarching story, let alone the stories from the first book!

The net result was, rather than letting her beautiful prose sweep me away, and relaxing into the stories, I was anxious most of the time, trying to stay on top of a tidal wave that kept dragging me under. It was a stressful experience instead of an overall pleasant one.

However. Inside that, there are stories that are delightful, ideas that made me laugh out loud with delight. The idea of maidens as the larval stage of dragons, for instance, and all those stories of maidens being stolen away by dragons simply tales of misguided adoption.

Or the man made of mice, who were truly terrifying. I don't think I've ever found mice more terrifying.

If I didn't feel the obligation to keep track of the stories and realize how they wove together, I probably would have enjoyed this more. The writing is beautiful, as always. Valente knows how to weave fairy tales that are fresh and yet archetypal. But I couldn't keep the thread.

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