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Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand

Errantry: Strange Stories (edition 2012)

by Elizabeth Hand

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11314106,831 (3.84)21
Title:Errantry: Strange Stories
Authors:Elizabeth Hand
Info:Small Beer Press (2012), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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Errantry : strange stories by Elizabeth Hand

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    Stranger Things Happen: Stories by Kelly Link (cammykitty)
    cammykitty: Kelly Link is the co-founder of Small Beer Press, the publisher of Errantry.

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As many other reviewers have mentioned these stories have a strong theme of sadness and regret. It took me longer to work my way through this book because of the not happy theme, and the stories were weird, but I found myself setting the book down for a few days and then picking it back up again to see where the next story would take me.
  m4marya | Jun 25, 2013 |
These stories are, in fact, strange. I picked this book up at the local library from the New Book shelf and because I am participating in the Short Story group on LT. I was glad that I did. It was a rather quick read, but very enjoyable. Not quite Science Fiction, in fact, I think a Science Fiction fan would say not even close, but since I am not very well acquainted with SciFi, I wouldn't really know. The thing is, Elizabeth Hand seems to know a lot about Science and uses that knowledge in this collection. In thinking about it as I write this review, I guess it is more Fantasy than SciFi. Whatever the concoction is, it works. Each story is full of a sense of wonder as the author creates a world that is not quite ordinary, and sometimes quite fantastic. Her descriptions of setting is crucial. When the reader is brought into any setting that takes place in nature, it is there the writing shines. It is evident that Hand is not only familiar with botany but loves the natural world and sees a connection between it and whatever her characters face. In "Near Zennor" the setting plays a huge part in the story, as a man travels through terrain his deceased wife had enjoyed as a child. She and her friends created a fantastical world on the moors near her uncle's farmhouse in England, based on a series of books written by a local author. There, they have a strange, other-worldly experience, and he sets out to see the landscape for himself. Need I say more? Her relationship with nature is never more evident than in "Winter's Wife", the story of a decent country man who brings home a young wife from Iceland. A young boy tells us of Winter, his mother's best friend, a man so well-liked that everybody considered him their friend. His new wife is kind, also, if a bit strange. But we don't find out how strange until the 300 year old trees that Winter loves and can view from the balcony of the new house he is building for his wife, are threatened. A long story, it was one of my favorites. "The Return of The Fire Witch" is the story that makes me think this collection is more fantasy than Science Fiction. This story is unadulterated fantasy, and wonderful in the way that it tells the reader about things completely foreign and unfamiliar but somehow understood in the context of the story. I find Fantasy to be similar to a drawing or painting of vivid colors. As I read Fantasy, I find a colorful and complex picture in my mind. The final story in the collection is the kind of story that leaves you thinking about it long after you are done reading. Try this book. I promise it will not disappoint. A veteran writer, Elizabeth Hand is an author I will continue to seek out for future reading pleasure. ( )
  mmignano11 | Mar 19, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Errantry, subtitled Strange Stories, is indeed what you could call a compilation of the just plain weird.. I've been wanting to read Hand's work for awhile so I was happy to snatch this one up. Unfortunately, this collection of short tales fell a bit flat for me.

It doesn't help that the first story in the collection, "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon", was extremely difficult to get through. I felt little for the characters, although the writing style itself was quite lovely. The lack of sympathy/ empathy I felt for these individuals was probably my biggest problem with the collection, which is odd because it seems Hand was aiming for reflective characters and odd, awesome beauty.

Not every story was a bust, though. "Winter's Wife" was one of my favorites, a fascinating tale about the cost of "progress", the importance of history and nature, and the seeming paradox of dangerous beauty. "Uncle Lou" and "Hungerford Bridge" were both haunting stories with themes of otherworldly oddities and the depth of emotions that both natural and supernatural can evoke. "Near Zennor" was perhaps the only true horror story in the compilation, and there were a few moments of adrenaline on my part while reading it.

Overall, this is a mixed bag, as short assortments like this often are. Hand seems to have a bit of a cult following, and judging by the descriptions of her other work, this seems to fit right in. If you're a Hand fan, or even a fan of the Clockwork Phoenix collections, go for it. It will certainly take you to some interesting places. Just don't expect it to be the most mind-blowing stuff you've ever read. ( )
  rebelaessedai | Mar 7, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Strange stories indeed. Some plain strange, some melancholy, some, well some didn't quite work for me, but that's often what happens with collections of short stories. I really enjoyed "Near Zennor" but I also felt it could be expanded into something more, that there was something just beyond reach that I wanted more of. Although perhaps that was Hand's intent--with her, you can never quite tell and that's one of the reasons I really enjoy her work. I also very much liked "The Far Shore" and how I thought I knew what it was going to be and I was sure it was a retelling of a particular fairy tale but ended up as something rather different. "Winter's Wife" was far and away my favorite though. If you like strange stories, definitely pick this one up. ( )
  PirateJenny | Feb 25, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Errantry: Strange Stories is a collection of short fiction by Elizabeth Hand. The dominant theme of the collection seems to be melancholy and regret, and the stories mostly seem to occupy that netherworld that exists right on the edge between fantasy and reality. In many ways the stories in this collection reminded me of the stories from John Collier's Fancies and Goodnights, or perhaps Ray Bradbury's Medicine for Melancholy. The end result is a beautiful collection of strange and sad stories.

The opening story is The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon, a story about the kind of regret that comes with middle age, when someone realizes that the dreams of their youth have faded to grey while there is still a lot of life left in front of them. The protagonist is a widower raising his son following the untimely death of his spouse. He works a menial job to make ends meet and keeps loosely in touch with a couple of people from his halcyon days working as a security guard at the National Air and Space museum. This meager decades old connection results him setting out on an expedition to North Carolina's outer banks to fly a model of the titular aircraft in honor of a dying woman who worked as a researcher at the museum. The ties between the characters in the story are whisper thin, but they are all any of them has, so they engage in this crazy and quixotic quest. The only trouble with the story is that the fantastical element seems almost pointlessly thrown in and more or less irrelevant to the plot in any substantial way.

Near Zennor also deals with loss and a quest following a wife Anthea's death (a grief further compounded by the fact that their only daughter had previously died as an infant), but this time the protagonist, Jeffrey, goes in search of answers to a mystery that hovered about his spouse. It seems that his deceased wife was a fan of the obscure children's book The Sun Battles by the now disgraced author Robert Bennington. It seems that Bennington's reputation was tarnished by accusations of pedophilia, and his writing career was ruined as a result. But in looking through Anthea's effects, Jeffrey finds that she and three of her friends seem to have contacted the author when they were young girls. Searching deeper, he finds that they went to see him, and a something terrible seems to have happened that Anthea and her friends never spoke about. Jeffrey goes to England to search the area where Bennington lived, and where the mysterious event seems to have happened, and has a series of odd things happen. None of them are odd enough to definitively declare them to be otherworldly, but they do give the story and eerie and haunting quality. The story meanders at times, but the final pages are so creepy and effective that they make up for it.

Hungerford Bridge is a story that seems like it could have been written by John Collier, and it depicts a reality that could be our reality and we would never know it. The story is short, detailing the passing of a beautiful secret from one person to another. It is one of the few stories in the collection that doesn't deal with death and loss, but rather a shared knowledge, but it still manages to be melancholy. More fantastical than Hungerford Bridge, is The Far Shore, a story about an aging ballet instructor who moves into an off-season summer camp after losing his job with the ballet company he has been part of for his entire career. The story contains many themes, most of them about coping with injury, the loss of the dreams of our youth, and the inevitability of age, but it also contains the joy of finding a new love. The only thing that was somewhat disappointing about the story was that having a male ballet dancer turn out to be gay seems so predictable and stereotypical that the protagonist seem almost to be a caricature rather than a well-developed character.

Winter's Wife is a story featuring folk tale elements set in a rural Maine county. Told by a fatherless teenage boy who has struck up something of a foster relationship with a quirky nature-loving man named Winter, the narrative tells of Winter's conflict with a wealthy local named Tierny over a group of ancient trees in a nearby wood. As the title would suggest, Winter's wife, a tiny Icelandic woman who spends much of the story pregnant, features prominently in the plot. The story deals with the arrogance of wealth and how nature might respond if it had the power to do so, with the fate bestowed upon the villainous Tierny being poetic, albeit somewhat gruesome, justice. But the story is also about families, and how the family we choose is just as important as the family we are born into. Following immediately after Winter's Wife is Cruel Up North, the shortest and one of the most mysterious stories in the book. Taking up a mere three pages, the story tells of a woman's exploration through a city block and the odd discovery she makes.

The most perplexing story in the collection is Summerteeth, which seems to be an odd mixture of a mood piece and the first half of a summer horror film. Set on an island retreat frequented by artists and writers and told in punctuated and at times seemingly unrelated vignettes, the whole atmosphere of the story is one of confusion, loneliness, and despair. The story feels almost as if Hand was trying to convey the angst that an artist feels while immersed in the creative process, but layered over this are the hints of a mysterious danger stalking the individuals who sojourn on the island. Like several other stories in the volume there's nothing explicitly supernatural about any of the happenings that take place during the tale, but the odd happenstances give it an unsettling, albeit confusing air.

In contrast to the off-kilter reality of Hungerford Bridge, Near Zennor, and Summerteeth, The Return of the Fire Witch is the most unabashedly fantastical story of the bunch. In the tale a fungus witch named Saloona is roped into helping her neighbor, the fire witch Paytim, in her quest for revenge against the freshly crowned Paeolina of the Crimson Messuage. Paytim has acquired an extraordinarily powerful and lethal charm to accomplish this goal, but she needs Saloona's aid to pull off her objective. Unlike so many of the other stories in the collection which include only a sparing dash of fantasy or science fiction, The Return of the Fire Witch is filled with huge ladles full of magical elements. Both Saloona and Paytim live surrounded by magical charms, magical devices, and magical beasts to such an extent that these surroundings begin to seem almost mundane as the story goes on. Both of the women make their way to the Crimson Messuage, and begin to carry out their plan, although there are a couple complications and a betrayal along the way. In the end, this story seems to be a commentary upon the absurdity of many fantasy tales as well as the pointlessness of revenge.

As with many of the stories in this book, Uncle Lou is focused on the tiredness that comes with age. The titular character is an irascible old bachelor now retired from a long career of writing travel guides aptly named the "By Night" series because they tell people where to find the best night spots around the world. The story is told from the viewpoint of his favorite niece who seems to be a frequently caller upon the old man. Uncle Lou invites his niece to accompany him on a trip to night time benefit for a zoo. This being something of a modern fairy tale, the trip takes an unexpected course, although it seems that the unusual retirement that Uncle Lou enters into is one that he not only anticipated, but prepared for.

Errantry is at the same time the strangest and the most mundane story of the collection. A group of three friends, including a musician named Tommy who is obsessed with a fictional woman named "Estelle", set out on the trail of an unknown person they only know as "the folding man", so named for his proclivity for leaving little folded paper sculptures behind wherever he goes. None of the trio has ever actually seen the folding man, and they only know of him as a result of occasionally finding his creations in local bars and restaurants. The story details their pursuit of the mysterious origami aficionado through several venues until they wind up in an abandoned house in the countryside. Exploring the house only results in more mystery, as it seems that the long gone occupants hoarded everything, and most notably piles and piles of newspapers. Eventually they uncover something even more disturbing than piles of trash, which seems to connect to Tommy's obsession with "Estelle", although not in such a way that would confirm that anything supernatural was taking place. The story is somewhat unnerving, but not because of anything that might be definitely called magic, rather because it seems so close to what reality would be if seen through a distorting lens.

Filled with stories that seem to exist just to the side of reality and laced through with themes of loss, loneliness, sadness, and death, Errantry: Strange Stories is an engaging and sometimes disturbing collection. Every story in the volume is interesting, even if some of them seem simply inexplicably odd, and a few, notably Winter's Wife, Near Zennor, and Errantry, are excellent. Overall, this is a lovely collection of stories that will leave the reader feeling full of melancholy, full of sorrow, and full of wonder.

This review has also been posted to my blog Dreaming About Other Worlds. ( )
  StormRaven | Feb 24, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Perhaps because it represents a body of work over a relatively short period of time, there are some clear tonal and thematic similarities on display. With one exception, the stories in Errantry are very much of a piece: low-key tales of the fantastical lurking on the edges of the everyday, of marginal or (self-)marginalized figures .. withdrawing from conventional ways of seeing the world, and experiencing moments of transcendent shock.
added by karenb | editStrange Horizons, Nic Clarke (May 29, 2013)
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Table of Contents:

The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon
Near Zennor
Hungerford Bridge
The Far Shore
Winter’s Wife
Cruel Up North
The Return of the Fire Witch
Uncle Lou
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Table of Contents:

The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon
Near Zennor
Hungerford Bridge
The Far Shore
Winter’s Wife
Cruel Up North
The Return of the Fire Witch
Uncle Lou
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Collects short works exploring the macabre in everyday life and features a host of less-than-innocent characters including mysterious next-door neighbors and an eccentric man in an adjoining cubicle.

(summary from another edition)

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