Margo Lanagan is an Australian storywriter with two previous story collections, White Time and Black Juice, to her credit (in addition to some YA novels). Red Spikes, recently nominated for the 2007 World Fantasy Award for Best Collection (single-author), is her third collection of short stories and after being released in Australia and the UK in 2006, is due to be released in the US in October 2007.
Although this is the only book of hers that I've read, from what I can tell from other reviewers is that this collection continues Lanagan's focus on the "normality" of the quite strange. The opening tale, "Baby Jane," involves a rather typical teenage boy, a figurine of a queen wearing "maternity armor" that comes to life, and oh, there's also this bear that pokes its head in every now and then during the course of the story. The queen has a certain situation that she has to handle, while we find ourselves within the mind of the boy, wondering if Immigration would be after the Queen. It is this juxtaposition of the fantastical with the very mundane that makes for an interesting opener and which serves to set the tone for the remaining nine stories in this collection.
As I read through each of these, I noticed certain themes reappearing in various guises. In most of these stories, Lanagan's narrators are not all that confident in themselves or in the outside world and the shadings of dialogue and internal thoughts reveals this ambiguity that colors the settings with a sense of mystery, dead, and wonderment all rolled into one. Or in other words, she often captures the feel of our own confusion about the world and our "place" within it. The characters generally are wanting more in these stories, perhaps a sense of fulfillment or maybe a desire to understand just what it was that they had in the first place. These stories are deceptively simple in appearance, as Lanagan's direct prose serves as a Trojan Horse for all sorts of mischievous interpretations to enter our brains and to become lodged there.
Summary: As a collection, each of Red Spikes' stories stand well by themselves and there are not any really weak or "off" stories. These are stories that find the characters questioning themselves, not always finding answers, but yet still moving on in hopes of a greater resolution off-stage. A fine collection that is worthy of its nomination for the WFA.
Release Date: Available now in the UK, Australia, October 9, 2007 in the US. Hardcover.
Publisher: Knopf Delacorte Dell