It’s been ages since we’ve had a review from Theresa but she’s back, fresh from her travels and has an amazing anthology for us!
And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe (Release Date: April 14, 2017)
A murdered movie star reaches out to an unlikely fan. An orchard is bewitched with poison apples and would-be princesses. A pair of outcasts fail a questionnaire that measures who in their neighborhood will vanish next. Two sisters keep a grotesque secret hidden in a Victorian bathtub. A dearly departed best friend carries a grudge from beyond the grave. In her debut collection, Gwendolyn Kiste delves into the gathering darkness where beauty embraces the monstrous, and where even the most tranquil worlds are not to be trusted. From fairy tale kingdoms and desolate carnivals, to wedding ceremonies and summer camps that aren’t as joyful as they seem, these fourteen tales of horror and dark fantasy explore death, rebirth, and illusion all through the eyes of those on the outside the forgotten, the forsaken, the Other, none of whom will stay in the dark any longer.
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Looking for an enchanting collection that will have you swooning at lyrical language while feeling a gamut of emotions? Look no further. These stories are their own unique escapes into poetic worlds that are often unnerving or heartbreaking. At times I wondered how Kiste knew how I’ve felt—has she been inside my head? Does she poke around in there when I’m dreaming? That uncanny connection I sensed when reading, to me, indicates her gift for capturing the human experience (which sometimes takes a magnifying glass to gender roles). And, she does this on multiple levels. There’s a deep exploration of the characters’ regrets, longings, loves, fears, and darker tendencies. Fortunately, for the dark fiction lover, Kiste doesn’t shy away from taking us to places that are painful or uncomfortable. Sometimes this has to do with the inner realms of the characters, and other times it has to do with the horrors of the realities around them. Both are perceptive snapshots of issues we need to examine either in ourselves, in others, or in our circumstances. How might these ideas shape our futures? Are we doomed? I quite enjoyed the mirror Kiste held up. Many readers will likely be changed after finishing this book. Perspectives will be challenged, nerves will be touched. And, you may find yourself rereading passages merely to let the lovely paint brush of words swipe over you again.
Here’s a rundown of each of the stories:
“Something Borrowed, Something Blue”: A jaunt through marriage and motherhood, laced with a tinge of abandonment, insanity, and redemption.
“Ten Things to Know about the Ten Questions”: A wonderful dystopian nightmare from a child’s perspective. The tension and voice in this piece is extremely effective.
“The Clawfoot Requiem”: What a poignant portrayal of grief and sisterly devotion. I sank right into the abyss with this narrator, questioning the people in her life who seek to control her. The blood and religious imagery here really drew me in, as well as the way in which Kiste unravels the details like a mystery. That had me turning the pages.
“All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray”: What a clever twist on a well-loved fairy tale. I couldn’t help but see this story as a commentary on the feminine archetype and what it’s become. Kiste asks us to consider a woman’s role in society and wonder if there is any hope for change. You’ll have to read to find out whether the ending is a happy or grim one.
“The Man in the Ambry”: This is one of Kiste’s stories that incorporates the theme of writing letters to someone who may or may not be responsive. I think this is a great metaphor for our relationships with others. Do people really understand or hear us? Do they give us the answers we seek? The twist at the end of this story is pretty delicious.
“Find Me, Mommy” & “Audrey at Night”: Two of the collection’s heart wrenching peeks at marriage and motherhood.
“The Five-Day Summer Camp”: Another interesting dystopian romp from a child’s point of view. The sisterly bonding and how the story comes full-circle at the end is well-executed. The ‘will they or won’t they survive’ element and the realistic details kept me thoroughly engaged.
“By Now, I’ll Probably Be Gone”: A supernatural dip into the pool of lost love and breaking up.
“The Tower Princesses”: A creative take on social constraints and isolationism. Kiste pulls back the curtain on gender roles again—this time with more of a ‘let’s pull off the Band-Aid super quickly’ effect. Some brutal revelations here. Can we afford to hide out in our towers, or should we brave making a mark on the world? Yikes.
“And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe”: A dark and romantic fixation with an obscure movie star who’s dead suddenly transforms into an allegory for relationships. This is one of the standouts for me in this book. I was hypnotized by the flow of ideas and colorful sentences.
“The Lazarus Bride”: Um, more of this, please! This story ranks at the top for me. The strange connection between these characters and the flashbacks and flash forwards are like a rhythmic symphony. I also appreciated the disorientation—what is real and what is nightmare? This story is a full immersion into the agony of being in love. It’s a cool way to end the collection—be prepared to be zinged with a ‘what just happened to me?’ sensation.
Overall, this compilation of tales hits the spot. And, I’m willing to bet your dark fiction sweet tooth will need more Kiste to feed your addiction to her prose.