Monday, October 9, 2023

Review: The Wishing Pool and Other Stories by Tananarive Due

I was very reluctant to read this collection of stories. I know that Tananarive Due is supposed to be an amazing author but I'm not the biggest short story fan and am decidedly cowardly so the horror tag for these was hard to overcome. Having finally read them now, I will say that Due is as amazing as billed and that the horror was not really horror (or maybe it is but the horror of it is less each storyline and more its closeness to our actual life in many cases).

The stories in this collection are arranged thematically and divided into four different sections: Wishes, The Gracetown Stories, The Nayima Stories, and Future Shock. Wishes deals with the supernatural and the horror of the familiar that turns out to be something entirely other once the mask is removed. The stories in this section weave the supernatural into the everyday in creepy and sometimes terrifying ways. Haint in the Window, perhaps my favorite story of the entire collection, is in Wishes. It tells the story of a black bookstore manager who grew up visiting the bookstore as a child, took over the store as an adult, and has watched, uncomfortably, as the neighborhood around the store gentrifies. He is uncertain what it means when a haint moves into this store he's dedicated his whole life to but it can't be good. Due ratchets up the tension as the story progresses and then comes out swinging, presenting the reader with a terrible truth, one unfortunately not at all removed from real life. It was masterfullly done. The stories in The Gracetown Stories section are all set within the magical, and often sinister, Gracetown. The Nayima Stories only comprise two stories about a girl and then woman named Nayima, who is one of few survivors of a plague that has more than decimated the world. Both stories are set in a horrifying dystopia, one immediately suceeding the plague and one many years in the future. And the stories of Future Shock are firmly in the Afrofuturism camp but also set in a dystopian world (but perhaps not the same dystopia as The Nayima Stories).

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed many of the stories. Or perhaps enjoyed is the wrong word and appreciated is a better one. The stories as a whole are tightly written and complete on their own, although there were certainly a few that might have needed a bit more (and some I wanted a bit more from). Due weaves the theme of racism through many of the stories but it is not the sole focus of her collection. I definitely appreciated that Due's brand of horror isn't gory and graphic, no jump scares, just a rising sinister atmosphere, a dawning recognition, and suspense leading to a creepy, unsettling reveal. It's not my usual type of read but it's not bad to expand your horizons sometimes.

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