Sing Your Sadness Deep by Laura Mauro

Oh, joy! The second October-appropriate review! The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon was more haunting, definitely not scary. I’ve got a few more scary novels lined up for this month, but let me not get ahead of myself. Sing Your Sadness Deep by Laura Mauro is a collection of short stories that dip into various genres: horror, fantasy, fairy tale. And just look at that wonderful cover, which I believe encompasses all three:

We all know the mantra: collections cause headaches because some stories shine, others are shit, and we’re left feeling “meh.” My other pet peeve is when a collection basically rehashes the same themes and character to the point I can’t tell one story from the next. Neither of these is true of Mauro. What if you could suck out a suffering person’s pain like a smoke that you put in jars and collect? Would you believe your twin dying of cancer was a changeling lost in the human world? If an ancient creature that controlled the attitude of London lived in a bathtub, would you care for him or destroy him? I mean, each tale is so dissimilar I can easily recall all thirteen (heh) stories of darkness.

One theme is control of others, be they human, ghosts, or creatures. In “Letters from Elodie,” the narrator recalls an enigmatic young woman whose personality everyone, men and women, falls in love with. Except the narrator; she knows this about Elodie:

I’d looked inside of her and seen nothing at all but bones couched in black rot; her magpie soul, pieced together out of the fragments she stole from other people, other lives, a ransom note assembled from newsprint. I could have destroyed her, if I’d wanted to. I could have ruined her. I could have.

In “Looking for Laika,” a brother who fears everything, but nuclear war especially, controls his sister by telling her a romantic story of the space dog, Laika, and how she’s still out there looking for a safer home for humans. But does telling a tale make it true when you add a dose of fantasy? When a dog-size space craft lands in the ocean by their house, questions arise.

Death also plays a significant theme in Sing Your Sadness Deep, though Mauro plays with it so we must look from all angles, and are occasionally given a grace period. What is killed may come back and demand you care for it. The method by which badness is killed may require the savior to take badness into themselves. And sometimes creatures kill out of sheer necessity, like hunger. If a human harbors a killer, what becomes of the human? Mauro writes, “When you grow up monstrous, the one who grants you your humanity is the closest thing there is to God.” Of course, she’s making a point about “otherness” (LGBTQ people, immigrants, disabled folks) without being outright about it in most cases.

For its cleverness, strong variety, excellent imagery, and ability to immerse readers, Sing Your Sadness Deep is a must-read short story collection.

17 comments

  1. This sounds excellent and the kind of creepy that I would find enjoyable. Just the other day I was telling my kids that a dog had been to space and as soon as I started talking about it I realized I didn’t want to tell them the ending but I also didn’t want to lie. There’s something charming about the idea of Laika still out there searching for a better home for us.

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  2. This sounds like a wonderful collection. I particularly love that “all the stories shine and that they don’t basically rehashes the same themes and character to the point you can’t tell one story from the next.” Because you are so right – these are problems I have had with collections. Wonderful review!

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  3. That cover really does span fantasy, horror, and fairy-tale! It’s very evocative. I suspect this collection would be too scary for me (honestly, October is always just a lot of people reviewing books I’ll never read), but like Karissa I find the idea of a more hopeful ending for Laika appealing.

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    • This author is British, which made me wonder if some of the atmospheric stuff would be familiar to you. However, she also has a variety of settings, from the deserts of the U.S. to Trinidad to Italy and Romania.

      The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon would be your speed, but probably not this one.

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  4. The horror! The horror! My question was how long does it go on for? But another month apparently. Then can we have a normal looking young woman carrying a bit of weight who has a normal time with her normal guy? Please.

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    • Ha! Oh, Bill! Yes, I shall get back to more books with fat women (and Deaf people!) very soon. Actually, given how much you like science fiction, I do think you might like this collection. I tried to choose a variety of books: scary, spooky, atmospheric, haunting. I’m not sure how steady my definition of horror is. For instance, I consider Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier to be horror because I was scared the whole book, but I think other folks would call it an atmospheric classic.

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    • Nice! Undertow Publications are big on e-books because the paperback ones cost time and money (the owner was saying this on Twitter), and I think the e-books are reasonably priced if you can’t get this at your library or through inter-library loan.

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  5. I think you’ve quite cleverly pointed out why short story collections don’t sell as well! Good on ya, I never thought of it that way, but you are SO right, I totally prefer a collection where each story is completely different. I think that’s why linked stories are so difficult to pull off, because to me it seems like it should just be made into a novel instead.

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