No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, September 21, 2006

#82: The Devil You Know -- Poppy Z Brite

An anthology of short stories with no central theme, though many are set in New Orleans, and several in the restaurants (and kitchens) of that city. Like many anthologies, this is interesting as much for the author's introduction, which discusses the 'writer's fatigue' that saw her turning her back on a 'serious' novel and writing for fun, the result of which was Liquor, as for the stories themselves.

Quick catalogue as much for my own reference as anything: 'The Devil You Know' is influenced by Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, and looks at Carnival krewes. 'O Death Where is Thy Spatula?' is a Doc Brite story (Doc Brite being the author's 'alternate life' as coroner of New Orleans), with a voodoo element and a modern twist. 'Lantern Marsh' is an old-fashioned horror story. 'Nothing of Him That Doth Fade' is probably my least favourite in the anthology: it's Open Water territory, but somehow never rises above the mundane. 'The Ocean' is an everyday tale of rock'n'roll folk, with mythic resonance. 'Marisol' (based on a real New Orleans restaurant) is another Doc Brite tale. 'Poivre' is a deliberately pretentious take on food snobs. 'Pansu', a tale of demonic possession in a Korean restaurant. 'Burn, Baby, Burn' is backstory for Liz Sherman from Mike Mignola's comic Hellboy. 'System Freeze' is set in the world of The Matrix, though the characters don't appear elsewhere (and if I hadn't read the introduction I doubt I'd have recognised the setting). 'Bayou de la Mere', 'The Heart of New Orleans', and 'A Season in Heck' all feature characters from Liquor and its sequels, in one way or another: 'The Heart of New Orleans' is also a Doc Brite story. And a ghost story. And it's set in New Orleans.

The quality's uneven. There are moments of simple human truth as delicious and understated as anything in Liquor, Prime etc. There's a nice wry humour that pokes fun at, but doesn't mock, eccentricities and has ample space for the surreal. Those passages make up for the competent but somehow lifeless tales -- perhaps just the ones that didn't stir me -- and they're in a minority to start with.

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