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Angela Slatter
Sourdough and Other Stories
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Tartarus Press
UK Limited First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-905-78425-7
Publication Date: 08-12-2011
238 pages; £30
Date Reviewed: 06-25-2011

Index:  Fantasy  Horror  General Fiction

Our world is wrought not from atoms and molecules, but emotion and vision. Colors are not the result of wavelengths and photons, but feelings and intuitions. The soil we walk upon is not dirt; it is our memories, layered with love and regret. And our lives are spells we cast with every word we say, lost in the wind.

Angela Slatter knows this world well, and even though she sets her stories in a world much like, but nominally not our world, her collection 'Sourdough and Other Stories' captures an essence that cannot be denied. There is magic in this world. It is not just what we feel, but that we feel.

The stories in 'Sourdough' unfold around Lodellan, a labyrinthine knot of streets and lives where the heart has mastered the world, if not itself. It is a world where what we might call magic is common, but devoid of "magic." The mind holds this world in an uneasy grip, like a palm scooping water from a river. If happiness can be made, so can its opposite, and rather more easily. The men and women of Lodellan strive for success, but failure is often the reward for their efforts. Everything here is unfamiliar, and yet so elemental as to be utterly familiar.

Slatter's stories hew close to the bone and low to the ground. The prose is clean and clipped, as are the plots. The stories often circle around story, as in "The Shadow Tree," in which a governess tells her spoiled royal charges a simple tale with an unexpected outcome. Souls are easily moved into dolls and even bread, and gallows bear strange fruit that may be consumed by those willing to risk the consequences. The world of Lodellan is timeless, beyond technology. It inhabits our consciousness as if it were a story we have told ourselves and half-forgotten.

The power of stories here derives from Slatter's incredibly controlled prose. Reading "Under the Mountain" or "The Bones Remember Everything," is a very involving experience. You can almost — but not quite — detect the words that have been carved away, the better to deliver the story and emotion directly into your reading world. This is language that readers will experience almost as memory.

Beyond the pristine quality of the sixteen individual stories is an impressively-built world on a much larger scale. For all the powerful characters you'll meet in the stories, Lodellan itself is the through-line, and a meta-character that may overshadow memories of (so-called) "real" cities you may have visited. Slatter gives us alleys and houses, farms and fields, highways and crossroads — oh yes, and very important they are — to corral our impressions and inhabit our minds.

Tartarus Press — as run by Ray Russell — brings something essential to this collection as well. The presentation is peerless, if familiar to those who have Tartarus Press books in their library. The soft yellow cover and inset illustration, writ large on an interior plate and on the hardcover itself make this book feel like a volume for the ages. A mere 300 copies are being published, so time is of the essence. Readers who enjoy the work of Robert Aickman will find 'Sourdough' similarly memorable.

More importantly, this book suggests that Tartarus Press (Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker) are establishing a powerful sensibility of quality in all of its definitions. That this is a well-made book is obvious. What is not so obvious, until you read the stories, is the sort of book, the kind of prose you can expect. There's a consistency of imagery and tone that make this book and Tartarus Press (in my experience so far, at least) a wonderful follow-on for the Aickman collections. The introduction by Robert Shearman and the Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer inform the reading experience with intelligence, not just enthusiasm.

Angela Slatter's short story collection 'Sourdough' is an excellent argument that Tartarus Press has earned readers' trust.

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