3 Mythic Tales to Spirit You Away After This Too-Real Weekend
One of the best things about literature is that it can successfully achieve what seems like a paradox: It can be an escape that takes us away to fantastic places and scenarios, while at the same time feeling relevant to our own lives and reminding us of what makes us human. As we try to get through the dreary days of January, these characteristics are more vital than ever. Take a break with this week’s book club and recharge with these mythic tales of wonder that hit just the right emotional spots.
1. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden ($16): Arden’s debut effort gives us magical realism in medieval Russia, where the hardscrabble reality of a penurious existence co-exists with the feeling of a fairy tale. “It was late winter in northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow… the household of Pyotr Vladimirovich were all sniffling from the damp and this from six weeks’ fasting on black bread and fermented cabbage. But no one was thinking of chilblains or runny noses, or even, wistfully, of porridge and roast meats, for Dunya was to tell a story.” It’s a distant world with a familiar theme, dealing with the sustaining impact of storytelling and the power of ritual.
Magdalena soon learns that, not only do others not see the same way, but most people aren’t comfortable when you can read them like a book. She shies away from this curious gift when she fails to prevent a tragedy she could have foreseen. However, when Magdalena discovers her own name written above the cheekbone of Neil, an American studying in Paris, she’s intrigued. The plot thickens when we meet Neil’s father Richard, who is also in Paris trying to find out what happened to his mother, who abandoned Richard at birth.
Running through the book is the theme of pilgrimage; the medieval pilgrimage route Neil is studying connecting with Richard’s pilgrimage to his own ancestry, and the one Magdalena must eventually undertake. Secrets are revealed (not just on the skin) and magic reigns.
3. The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead by Chanelle Benz ($25): The mythic tales in Benz’s short story collection widely range in setting and genre, from Victorian-era gothic to a Western heist to the life of a monk in 16th century England. The plethora of voices and scenarios come together to deal with modern-day issues in inventive ways, showing us that much about the darker side of humanity (abuse connected to age, gender and race) has remained unchanged through time and place. “He refilled my glass, Look, it ain’t your fault this world is no place for women. But us women are in it, I said. Have another, he said. Don’t dwell.”