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.