What I Didn't See and Other Stories
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by Karen Joy Fowler
Category: Science Fiction/Mainstream Nebula Award(R) Winner
Description: In New York Times bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler's new collection, the fantastic and the uncanny lurk just below the surface of ordinary lives. In the award-winning title story, the narrator recounts the events of an expedition to the Belgian Congo in 1928 to collect gorillas for the Louisville Museum of Natural History. A mother invents a fairy-tale world for her son in "Halfway People." Twin sisters backpacking through Europe receive a mysterious invitation. A rebellious teenager is sent to a brutal reform school hidden away in paradise. A young woman inherits the family submarine. In "The Dark," a researcher tracking plague outbreaks finds himself in the Viet Cong tunnels of Vietnam. A mystery writer visits an archaeological dig in Egypt and sets a curse in motion. In two stories, "Booth's Ghost" and "Standing Room Only," Fowler explores the circumstances of Lincoln's assassination from the perspectives of John Wilkes Booth's family and friends.
Fowler, perhaps best known for her novels, is a master of the short story form: the secret history, the account of first contact, the murderous, ordinary tensions of family life. She draws on fairy tales, historical narratives, and war reportage, measuring the human capacities for hope and despair, brutality and kindness in the fantastic tradition of writers such as Shirley Jackson, T. H. White, Karen Russell, and Ursula K. Le Guin.
Stories in this collection have received the Shirley Jackson Award and two Nebula Awards.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: September 2010
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [273 KB]
Reading time: 180-252 min.
"The bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club goes genre-busting in this engrossing and thought-provoking set of short stories that mix history, sci-fi, and fantasy elements with a strong literary voice. Whether examining the machinations of a Northern California cult, in "Always," or a vague but obviously horrific violent act in the eerie title story, the PEN/Faulkner finalist displays a gift for thrusting familiar characters into bizarre, off-kilter scenarios. Fowler never strays from the anchor of human emotion that makes her characters so believable, even when chronicling the history of epidemics, ancient archeological digs, single family submersibles, or fallen angels. She even displays a keen understanding of the historical world around Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, in two wonderfully realized historical pieces. Her writing is sharp, playful, and filled with insights into the human condition. The genre shifts might surprise fans of her mainstream hit, but within these pages they'll find familiar dramas and crises that entertain, illuminate, and question the reality that surrounds us."
Praise for Karen Joy Fowler:
"Fowler's witty writing is a joy to read."
"Stories that engage and enchant."
--San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle
"She has a voice like no other, lyrical, shrewd and addictive, with a quiet deadpan humor that underlies almost every sentence."
--Beth Gutcheon, Newsday
"No contemporary writer creates characters more appealing, or examines them with greater acuity and forgiveness."
--Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union
"What strikes one first is the voice: robust, sly, witty, elegant, unexpected and never boring."
--Margot Livesey, The New York Times Book Review
"Arresting . . . each piece puts us on notice in its own way that an intriguing intelligence is at work."
--The Boston Globe
"Unforgettable . . . incandescent . . . bewitching."
--Los Angeles Times Book Review
The Pelican Bar
For her birthday, Norah got a Pink CD from the twins, a book about vampires from her grown-up sister, High School Musical 2 from her grandma (which Norah might have liked if she'd been turning ten instead of fifteen), an iPod shuffle plus an Ecko Red T-shirt and two-hundred-dollar darkwash Seven Jeans--the most expensive clothes Norah had ever owned--from her mother and father.
Not a week earlier, her mother had said it was a shame birthdays came whether you deserved them or not. She'd said she was dog-tired of Norah's disrespect, her ingratitude, her filthy language--as if fucking was just another word for very--fucking this and fucking that, fucking hot and fucking unfair and you have to be fucking kidding me.
And then there were a handful of nights when Norah didn't come home and turned off her phone so they all thought she was in the city in the apartment of some man she'd probably met on the internet and probably dead.
And then there were the horrible things she'd written about both her mother and father on Facebook.
And now they had to buy her presents?
I don't see that happening, Norah's mother had said.
So it was all a big surprise, and there was even a party. Her parents didn't approve of Norah's friends (and mostly didn't know who they were), so the party was just family. Norah's big sister brought the new baby, who yawned and hiccoughed and whose scalp was scaly with cradle cap. There was barbecued chicken and ears of corn cooked in milk, an ice-cream cake with pralines and roses, and everyone, even Norah, was really careful and nice except for Norah's grandma, who had a fight in the kitchen with Norah's mother that stopped the minute Norah entered. Her grandmother gave Norah a kiss, wished her a happy birthday, and left before the food was served.
The party went late, and Norah's mother said they'd clean up in the morning. Everyone left or went to bed. Norah made a show of brushing her teeth, but she didn't undress, because Enoch and Kayla had said they'd come by, which they did, just before midnight. Enoch climbed through Norah's bedroom window, and then he tiptoed downstairs to the front door to let Kayla in, because she was already too trashed for the window. "Your birthday's not over yet!" Enoch said, and he'd brought Norah some special birthday shrooms called hawk's eyes. Half an hour later, the whole bedroom took a little skip sideways and broke open like an egg. Blue light poured over everything, and Norah's Care Bear, Milo, had a luminous blue aura, as if he were Yoda or something. Milo told Norah to tell Enoch she loved him, which made Enoch laugh.
They took more of the hawk's eyes, so Norah was still tripping the next morning when a man and a woman came into her bedroom, pulled her from her bed, and forced her onto her feet while her mother and father watched. The woman had a hooked nose and slightly protuberant eyeballs. Norah looked into her face just in time to see the fast retraction of a nictitating membrane. "Look at her eyes," she said, only the words came out of the woman's mouth instead of Norah's. "Look at her eyes," the woman said. "She's high as a kite."
Norah's mother collected clothes from the floor and the chair in the bedroom. "Put these on," she told Norah, but Norah couldn't find the sleeves, so the men left the room while her mother dressed her. Then the man and woman took her down the stairs and out the front door to a car so clean and black that clouds rolled across the hood. Norah's father put a suitcase in the trunk, and when he slammed it shut, the noise Norah heard was the last note in a Sunday school choir: the men part of amen, sung in many voices.
The music was calming. Her parents had been threatening to ship her off to boarding school for so long she'd stopped hearing it. Even now she thought that they were maybe all just trying to scare her, would drive her around for a bit and then bring her back, lesson learned, and this helped for a minute or two. Then she thought her mother wouldn't be crying in quite the way she was crying if it was all for show. Norah tried to grab her mother's arm, but missed. "Please," she started, "don't make me," but before she got the words out the man had leaned in to take them. "Don't make me hurt you," he said in a tiny whisper that echoed in her skull. He handcuffed Norah to the seat belt because she was struggling. His mouth looked like something drawn onto his face with a charcoal pen.
"This is only because we love you," Norah's father said. "You were on a really dangerous path."
"This is the most difficult thing we've ever done," said Norah's mother. "Please be a good girl, and then you can come right home."
The man with the charcoal mouth and the woman with the nictitating eyelids drove Norah to an airport. They showed the woman at the ticket counter Norah's passport, and then they all got on a plane together, the woman in the window seat, the man, the aisle, and Norah in the middle. Sometime during the flight, Norah came down, and the man beside her had an ordinary face and the woman had ordinary eyes, but Norah was still on a plane with nothing beneath her but ocean.
While this was happening, Norah's mother drove to the mall. She had cried all morning, and now she was returning the iPod shuffle to the Apple store and the expensive clothes to Nordstrom's. She had all her receipts, and everything still had the tags, plus she was sobbing intermittently, but uncontrollably, so there was no problem getting her money back.