This week's Friday Five guest is Johann Thorsson. He blogs at jthorsson.com and bookriot.com and spends far too much time on Twitter, clever disguised as @johannthors. And, with no further ado, let's hand over...
I recently made a vow to myself to read more books by women, in part to overcome my own bias towards books by white guys (which is, I fear, the default setting for many of us). And, in the process, I read a whole heap of great books - including some terrific recent collections.
So, to help encourage everyone to try out some new authors, I wanted to share some of the stories I found.
From Gifts for The One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall
Sayer Sandifer is a twelve year old magician who, unfortunately, has none of the attributes one would think were necessary to be a good at magic. Instead, he has stubby fingers, a stutter, bad timing and no assistant. But he nonetheless manages to gather a crowd and, one afternoon, at the end of a rather bad show, some unfortunate true magic happens and Sayer disappears into his hat. But Helen Marshall is clever, and this is just the beginning of the story, which ends with something bad happening. But I’m not allowed to tell you what that bad thing is... It’s a story that makes you laugh at first, and then shakes you to the core.
Read it if you like: subtle, funny stories with a dark twist of fantasy.
"The Summer People"
From Get in Trouble by Kellly Link
"The Summer People" tells the story of a girl whose father is the caretaker of a few summer homes. One of them, apparently, belongs to some rather odd people. The father leaves the girl and goes to Florida to “get right with God”, tasking her to do his work in his absence. Unfortunately, she is very ill so she gets a friend from school to help with chores for the summer people. The odd chores, for odd people, lead to odd rewards - all told with Kelly Link’s wonderful deep magic.
Read it if you like: stories by Neil Gaiman or Susanna Clarke.
An haunting little story about a man working as a switchboard operator. "Who is Arvid Pekon?" is, to perpetuate a cliché, a Kafkaesque story. Arvid gets calls that grow ever stranger as the story moves forward, until they provoke existential questions and, eventually, justified paranoia. How can we ever know who we really are?
Read it if you like: the outright weird.
From The Wilds by Julia Elliott
The title story from this excellent collection is about a rather feral family that moves into the long-neglected house behind the protagonist's. The family has eight boys, all of them wild and hairy, ill-behaved and mysterious. Of course, she falls for one of them. The magic of the story lies as much in the way it is written (Julia Elliott is a true talent) as it is the pure fun of reading about a pack of unruly wild boys. The kind you’re not supposed to fall for but of course you do.
Read it if you like: stories of brave girls, lycanthropy and "Hair" the musical.
"The Corn Maiden"
From The Corn Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates
I bought "The Corn Maiden" because in Wonderbook, Jeff VanderMeer says that it’s “a masterclass in the use of point of view”. It also has an awesome cover. The title story is about a kidnapping; a girl whose classmates refer to as “The Corn Maiden” goes missing. It is told from the point of view of the mother, the kidnappers, the main suspect and the girl herself - and it is, indeed, a masterclass. We learn the reasons behind the kidnapping, the mother’s questionable reaction, the main suspects thoughts about the case… all of it blending into an incredible thriller.
Read it if you like: True Detective.