I don’t really know how to capture Kij Johnson’s short story collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees in words. Her writing here reminds me often of Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath, in its focus on ordinary people and everyday life in extraordinary circumstances.
At the Mouth of the River of Bees is a hefty volume—I read the ebook edition, so I can’t measure its spine, but it spans nearly Kij’s entire career, from 1989 to today, and although it doesn’t do so comprehensively, there’s still a lot of material to present. Moreover, the stories display an impressive degree of thematic unity without ever seeming repetitive.
I have been thinking that writing like this asks me as a reader to slow down and take it on its own terms. Johnson’s prose isn’t lush like Catherynne Valente’s or finely-wrought and occasionally oblique like Elizabeth Bear’s—most of the stories are written in good, transparent plain style, and anyone who has tried it will tell you it’s not as easy as it looks. And the stories never seemed to me to drag—they always had purpose and direction. But they pay close attention to their subjects, and I found it very rewarding to experience the stories at the narrative’s own pace.
This is one for me to reread and study, I think.