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Throwback Review of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste


Originally published 04/14/2017

This is another of those rare instances where I shall bury some my enthusiasm for the sake of professionalism. But first, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is absolutely fucking incredible.

There's a I-can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it feeling to most of the stories when it comes to pinning down a genre. The collection opens on a dark fantasy. It’s avian, it’s weird, it’s heavy, enveloping.

The first story is fantastic (and a man like me squints at the next, wondering if this is frontloaded with a train cars of medicrity trailing behind). The second story is as good as the first; that fantastic first story was not a fluke, nor was the second, or third, or fourth...

Emotional and weighty in its descriptions and needs, The Clawfoot Requiem brings a touch more horror into the equation, but nothing brash or heartbeat pattering. It is a backdoor, all-consuming horrific vibe. As it happens often in this collection the unlikely digs in its nails and becomes a fact, something to lose, or burn up. There are fairy tale vibes, twisted and reimagined to coexist with death, and rebirth, and mystery. A recurring theme here is the outsider, told from the view of the outsider. The unwanted figure looking in, cowering, running away from trauma. It’s not an unusual subject for fiction, but Gwendolyn Kiste offers such an original and wrenching distribution it would be difficult to compare her to many others (Shirley Jackson was a master of this kind of short, for one).

If I thought it necessary to go on along the same thread, it would be easy to point out titles in this collection that would standout placed in virtually any anthology of shorts. And do so over and over and over and... The voice and themes here shake the expected and reinvent the norms so easily the fantastical aspects fit everywhere. The somber tones and palpable emotions compliment in a perfect, eloquent companionship of dark literature. Gwendolyn Kiste has an imagination and delivery that is not only rare, but extraordinary. It is profound and touching on so many levels that this works towers above the majority of ARCs landing in my inbox.

If there’s another collection as good as this in 2017, I will be surprised. I certainly won’t hold my breath on it.

This one's available from Journalstone

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