As this isn’t really a proper book, and is actually a series of longish short stories, I’ll keep it brief so as to avoid spoiling anything.
The Tiger Came to the Mountains by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I suppose by default when reaching back into an author’s heritage, anyone not of European genes is going to tell a story in a less familiar setting (though between McMurtry and McCarthy, I had that déjà vu feeling while my brain cooked images to go alongside these particular words). Here, in the empty hills of Mexico, we have two children facing off with not only the elements, but a very large animal. The author plays on the ample suspense inherent in such a scenario and draws it out in an engaging piece of writing after a good deal of character table setting. Especially enjoyed the conclusion.
Trespass by Jeff VanderMeer
Sparse prose and heavy wilderness description counterbalance one another, keeping the pacing level, though quick. The situation is interesting in that the elements carry numerous layers that unfold throughout.
This is a suspense story, and the suspense is built on a naturally nerving situation: a woman in something approaching isolation in close proximity to an unhinged man. The suspense carries all the way to the end where the story takes a questionable left turn that would be wholly surprising if not for the typical genre the author works in.
The Backbone of the World by Stephen Graham Jones
Simple and yet eloquent prose for the W. This one builds an everyday country scene, even offering up a tragedy, though probably rare-ish, that is totally simple to conjure. I mean, who hasn’t seen a million little kids crossing a road in front of a bus? This steady landscape of reality is the groundwork that allows the oddity to take hold (and by oddity, I mean capital O oddity).
Not quite like anything I’ve read before, this one will likely have me looking sideways at prairie dogs next time I see them (I don’t live where there’s prairie dogs, though I have…and I’d thought they were such cute little guys). Another Stephen Graham Jones standout. Of the collection, this one is a must read. It’s quick, it’s weird, and it’s heaps of fun.
Stag by Karen Russell
Colorful prose and a strangely relatable lead character carry this story through a rather mundane event—a divorce party—to what really matters, a tortoise. And when I say strangely relatable, I mean to me. He’s kind of miserable and willing to acknowledge the animals would be a lot happier without us here, destroying them thoughtlessly.
It takes a while for this one to get cooking, but has an ultimately rewarding final act and conclusion, using an emotional blindside to yank the engagement back to full throttle.
Mostly, this story made me wish I had property and a big tortoise or two.
A Righteous Man by Tochi Onyebuchi
This one’s an epistolary story about a Christian missionary succumbing to the weight of his position in an African village, as well as his skin color. I was a bit worried in the beginning—not usually a fan of the story in letters thing, and extra not a fan of the good Christian—but things played out in a subtle, surprising way that made for a really fulfilling story.
It’s quick and engaging, and doesn’t spend a great deal of time on the boring dearly beloved wife oh mine lines, as so many epistolary stories seem to. It deals with heavy stuff and there’s no easy answer and no way for the missionary to fully comprehend this, while the mental unravelling really worked to show without simply stating the facts of his degradation. Quality stuff. I’m going to read some more by this author.
Bloody Summer by Carmen Maria Machado
This one’s told in the notes, footnotes, and interview quotes of a researcher looking into a strange town with an even stranger history. It opens a bit slow, all telling and no showing (by nature), but once all the elements come together, an impending dread sinks in, which is pretty much when the interview portion of the story begins, stakes are finally presented as a named character suffered, and experienced the phenomenon.
A cool way to end the series given how it opened (a big kitty escaping human clutches in the first and big kitties abound in this one…don’t want to be a dick and do any spoiling).
Generally, this nature-adjacent series is worth checking out, from top to bottom. I mean, the stories are enjoyable on their own, but putting this together like this series feels a bit like listening to a smart album from start to finish. Good stuff.
You can check this out via Amazon (also included with a Prime subscription).