Edition 8: Book Review: Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa L. Hannett
Reviewed by Damien Smith
Bluegrass Symphony is the first collection from South Australian author Lisa L. Hannett. Each story feels carefully crafted to fit in to the same world, though it is never specified where or when exactly this world is. It has the feel of the Deep South in the not-too-distant past. It is also never specified where each story takes place in relation to the others, but they are woven so carefully that there is the constant feeling that characters fleeing one plot will come crashing through the middle of another.
While there are no direct connections across stories, each shares a common thread of everyday characters trying to get by in a harsh world populated by magic, superstition, fantastic creatures and death. Brutality is commonplace as characters act and react out of love, lust and the lot they are given. They aren’t scared of mysterious creatures of the night—they know exactly what’s out there.
The prose is complex and beautiful. Hannett is able to turn the brutally ugly into something darkly compelling. Many stories unwrap slowly as the reader tries to make sense of the picture being painted until you hit a “Ye gods, is THAT what’s going on?” moment and the reality hits like a highly descriptive brick to the face.
As any good horror collection should, there were several stories that disturbed me greatly. The Short Go: A Future in Eight Seconds quite literally made my eyes water at one point, while I actually had to take a break in the frankly disturbing From The Teeth of Strange Children and come back for a second go. But come back I did.
Alone of all the stories, I felt that Depot to Depot didn’t seem to fit quite in the same world as the others, however for the bittersweet feelings it left me with it remains one of my favourites in the collection.
What each story shares is the use of the supernatural as a window into human nature, and each will leave you with a different and lingering mood. Multi-layered plots and disturbing and occasionally taboo themes abound throughout this volume. This is not an easy read and the prose may be overly descriptive for some, but if you let it the book will pull you in and not let go.
If dark and disturbing is your thing, then definitely check out this debut collection. However as Lisa is a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and winner of the Aurealis Award, I hardly need to tell you that.
Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa L. Hannett
Dark Fantasy Anthology
Publisher: Ticonderoga Publications, 2011
Being a writer requires dedication, commitment, devotion, diligence, a skin like an armadillo and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. By this definition, Damien is most definitely not a writer, although he does occasionally put pen to paper. More accurately, Damien is a lover of the written word in nearly all its forms (you can keep vampire romances) and always feels a little down if he can see over his To Read pile.