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So, way back in May, I won a copy of the anthology Interfictions from Small Beer Press, on the condition that I would write a review of it on my blog. I was thrilled to win the copy, and I ended up reading it all through the plane ride from England to Canada (adding another level of interstitiality to the experience!). The morning after I arrived, jetlag woke me at 5am, and I ended up sitting in a little kitchenette in our Toronto hostel, watching the sky lighten as I made notes on the stories I'd most loved in the book. I knew I loved the anthology; I knew it was the strongest and strangest collection of stories I'd read in a long, long time. But I wasn't ready to write the review yet. I told myself the stories needed to settle.

Two weeks later, we headed back for England - without the book. I'd lent it to my youngest brother on my way out, mostly on the basis that I knew he would love it too (and he did!) - and maybe partly, secretly, as a way out of my challenge. I panicked when I arrived in England and I realized that I wouldn't be able to write the review without the book beside me. Dave brought it safely back to me the next month, when he visited in July. We talked about our favorite stories, which were different, although we'd both liked each other's favorites: mine was the Christopher Barzak story “What We Know About the Lost Families of --- House”, with Leslie What's "Post Hoc" and Vandana Singh's "Hunger" tying for close second; his two favorites were Veronica Shanoes's "Rats" (which mixes fairy tales with the true history of the Sex Pistols) and Catherine Valennte's "A Dirge for Prester John."

Then he left, and I still didn't write the review. I even managed to misplace the book for a while. I was in serious resistance.

And I finally figured out why. These stories, like the genre, aren't easy to pin down. They don't fit easy categories. They're hard to write and talk about. What they did all do, without exception, was make me think and also react, often strongly. Even the stories that didn't personally click for me, like Rachel Pollack's "Burning Beard — The Dreams and Visions of Joseph ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt", were too smart and provocative for me to dismiss. I didn't enjoy that story, but it stuck with me. I couldn't dismiss it, or the other stories, and I still can't. They're jostling for position in my mind even now as I think back to them. They are all consistently well-written and consistently uncategorizable. Some of them, like Leslie What's "Post Hoc" and Anna Tambour's "The Shoe in SHOES' Window", are so funny and so surreal that you can almost (but not quite) miss the bite of desperation behind the humor. Some of them are wistful and dreamy and beautiful, like Csilla Kleinheincz's "A Drop of Raspberry", the story of a Hungarian lake who falls in love with a man. Mikal Trimm's "Climbing Up Redemption Mountain" is almost (but not quite) a historical fiction story, and it's funny and dark and sad all at once. Vandana Singh's "Hunger" isn't a speculative fiction story by any description, but it's about a woman (a fan of science fiction) who learns to view her own life from a different lens.

My favorite piece in the whole anthology, Christopher Barzak's "What We Know About the Lost Families of --- House”, is a haunted-house story told with hypnotic intensity. Scenes shift from one point in history to the next with the apparently-irrational and yet seamless logic of a dream, or a nightmare. The story is narrated not by the inhabitants of the house but by the provincial townsfolk outside, avid (but not necessarily sympathetic) observers of the inhabitants whose lives are twisted by the House. Only when the House claims a child from the town outside do the nameless narrators finally decide to take action - and the House is more than capable of defending itself. The compelling tone of "What We Know..." reminded me at points of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Ancient Mariner buttonholing the wedding guest. Like the mariner, the entire community is haunted by the horrors it has witnessed; like the wedding guest, I felt haunted by the story.

If there's a single flaw in this anthology, it doesn't come from any of the stories, but from the Introduction - and whether it is a flaw depends on the target audience for the book. Heinz Insu Fenkl's introductory essay on interstitial fiction is well-written and comprehensive and intensely dry, written in a purely academic style which would have caused me to put the book straight back down on the shelf if I'd picked it up in a bookstore as a casual reader. It would feel far more appropriate as an introduction to a book of academic essays about different aspects of the genre than to a collection of wonderful and entertaining short stories. On the other hand, Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss's Afterward, which is engaging and accesible, would have made a perfect introduction to the volume. However, if this book is aimed at an academic library market, then Fenkl's Introduction is certainly well-aimed.

Almost four months after I first read this book, I still think of the different stories all the time. Even stories that I didn't like at the time shift inside me, trading places with each other, making me think about them again and re-evaluate them months later. After all this time of trying to think of the right way to review this book, all I can come up with is this: Interfictions is one of the best anthologies of any type that I have ever read. Read it!

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