Monstrous Affections Will Eat Your Sanity

This book got an extra star solely thanks to the contributions of Holly Black and Paolo Baciagalupi. 

Some books make you question your own sanity. They get into your brain and swirl it around and leave you feeling mixed-up and wibbly-wobbly. Examples would be Pines by Blake Crouch, which is a seriously freaky Twilight Zone-esque novel, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, which leaves you questioning your own memory, or even Gone Girl, which seriously made me reconsider what I am looking for in a narrator. We want life to be cozy and for everything to fit neatly into boxes. Since life is the exact opposite of that vision: it's messy and bloody and helter-skelter, we want fiction to be an escape. When books don't let you escape, but instead take you deeper into the twisted recesses of your own mind and into the cesspool of humanity, it's disconcerting, to say the least.

That was the kind of book I was hoping Monstrous Affections would be. I've read some of Kelly Link's stories before, and while I didn't love them, I appreciate her style and approach. I'm not quite sure what was going on here as an editor, though, because most of the stories made me feel like I was on various types of psychotropic drugs, in a fever dream, while on a tilt-a-whirl.

From the classic episode where Homer eats an entire Merciless Pepper of Quetzalacatenango.  "Maybe I do, son.  Maybe I do."

 Or maybe the authors were when they wrote them. I really don't know, because it's mildly terrifying just to look back on some of this.

Let's start with the good ones. Paolo Bacigalupi's "Moriabe's Children" is about kraken (YES!)

and addresses difficult topics without being either too cutesy or too graphic. Bacigalupi's prose is a joy to read, as always. And I mean, duh, of course Holly Black's is going to be awesome. What surprised me was that it wasn't a fae or faerie-inspired story, but rather very strongly in the science fiction camp. Stowaways, smugglers, space stations, and deadly alien races all come together in a most delectable second-person narrative. Black has a great sense of humor and it works really well in her story, "Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler."

Then stuff got weird. In M.T. Anderson's "Quick Hill," the protagonist has to marry a hill in order to stop World War I. Literally. He marries a geographical entity which has magical powers (?!??!) to stop the war or something. Cassandra Clare's story is a pretty phoned-in vampire story that has teens constantly on Facebook, which seems so totally out-of-date that it distracted me from the actual story. In reality, I was rather happy to be distracted from something so banal. "The Diabolist" started out as a kind of mad-scientist story but then a monster got dumped into a lake but it was sentient and then the scientists daughter went mad too and randomly stabbed this guy and then the lake took control of people and made them into slaves or something. It's like there were these ideas in the authors brain and they just poured out and he slapped a title on it and was like "Ta-da!" 




A lot of reviews are mentioning Sarah Rees Brennan's story about harpies and fairies and such. I didn't like her novel Unspoken, but other short stories of hers that I've read have been exceedingly well-done. This one though ... it has an agenda and it beats you over the head with it until you curl up in the fetal position, whimpering. It's also ridiculously long, and I have no shame admitting that I completely skimmed until the end, which was like, "Eh."

Nalo Hopkinson's story has to do with deformed feet and a water monster and a dead baby and it was so cracked out. I kept making weird faces at my Kindle. Why is there something wrong with Jenna's foot? Why does this sound like an odd mashup of British English and Louisiana dialect? Help!

Actually, Dylan Horrocks' story was okay. It wasn't bad. But the narrator's snarky attitude didn't mesh well with the whole save-the-Earth theme that was going on. Plus, the Maori in the story felt like fetishized characters, not real people. Plus, there was this description of the love-interest/monster: "He looked my age: long black curls, smooth dark skin, full lips, bare arms around my waist." Excuse me while I throw up from the schmaltz. Ugh.




The comic that was in there was nigh on unreadable for me because the pictures and text were on separate pages, so I couldn't tell what went in which panel. Oops.

Kelly Link's story about the doll Boyfriends was totally weird and more cliched than I thought it would be. The whole frenemies thing, the girl who has everything except love, and a main character who needs a man's love to be validated as a human being. Pffff. Plus, the characters have insufferable names like "Ainslie" and "Immy" and "Sky." What is this, the CW?

Anytime a story goes on and on about the plain girl protagonist, I want to chuck it off of a cliff. With Joshua Lewis', I did restrain myself as I value my Kindle and it really doesn't deserve such destruction. But, come on. "Emiline ... has brown hair that goes stringy in good weather and flat in bad weather, and a blue streak she keeps in it that looks nice the first day but fades to dishwater gray almost immediately ... She has purple glasses that her mother says hide her "lovely green eyes" (in fact, her eyes are plain hazel) ... She does not have a boyfriend. A life of adventure and mystery. Sufficiently narrow hips."



Really? Sufficiently narrow hips? Oh my goodness, my life would be so much better if my hips were just narrower! Obviously Emilene doesn't have a boyfriend because she has "plain hazel" eyes (I think hazel eyes are lovely!) and wide hips! Of course! Wider hips are scary and make men run away. Therefore, Emilene's only choice is the bizarro dude she meets in the woods who turns out to be a vampire and she goes totally Bella Swan on him and is like, "Turn me too!" Oops, he's a serial killer! This is just a story that chronicles the worst decision making processes ever.

Some of the stories here are very, very dark, and I didn't even read some of then in toto because I knew the themes weren't for me. This is a book that would have a very specific audience--one that willingly accepts stories where people marry hills and your dead sister turns into a water gorgon who only wants her shoes back, dangit.


I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.  Voilà.

Comments

  1. :) Perhaps perversely, I like "cracked out" as a description of my story. The vernacular in the story is Trinidadian English, which, like Louisianan (is that a word?), contains a lot of both African and French linguistic elements.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Nalo! No, I mean, if you were going for cracked out, you succeeded! Thanks for the info on the vernacular--very interesting! And thank you for being so gracious about my snark.

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