This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge: Margo Lanagan’s short story collection, Black Juice.
Lanagan’s worlds are not necessarily places you would want to visit. They are strange and often monstrous. Horrifying angels – noisy, smelly, unknowable – inhabit once place. Terrifying creatures erupt from the ground in another. Alien creatures are difficult, if not impossible, to communicate with. Humans are from worlds with different customs and understandings. And yet their values and motivations resonate with our own and makes the strangeness accessible. There is an emotional pull.
In Singing my Sister Down, probably the best known of the stories, a young boy witnesses the execution of his sister in a tar pit. Other tales: A herd of elephants journey to resuce their mahout. A girl rescues her crush, putting herself in the way of peril, only to be rejected. A travesty of a bride learns perseverance and courage. A girl buries her grandmother in a dystopian future. a boy frees himself from a brutal grandfather. Death and burial are a constant.
Each story features a wounded protagonist. The odds are often great, the possibility of success slim. Courage is the underlying theme and, for some, it is rewarded. Rite of Spring, the final story, is the most hopeful. A shining note to end the collection.
Lanagan’s writing is marvellous, sad, beautiful and tearing. She is able to paint a world through touches of phrasing and dialogue. She never explains, but somehow you know. Truly wonderful.