It took me a good year (or so; I didn’t keep close track) of having this on my bed and reading a story before bed when I felt like it to finish Catherynne M. Valente’s first collection of her published short stories, Ventriloquism. (I had the same issue — if one can call it that — with her Palimpsest, a book like a cassoulet — rich, decadent, filling prose, the kind you can’t eat too much of in one sitting.)
I found it slower going and less satisfying than her This Is My Letter To The World, the first collection of her Omikuji Project stories. Those stories are more consistent in length, to fit the epistolary form factor; more often make use of the fairy-tale motifs Valente is well-known for; maybe a little more pat (or maybe not). Many of the Ventriloquism stories I had already read, in their original publication.
It is a more literary, less emotional, collection than This Is My Letter…, I think, which works for me sometimes and not others. If these stories are harder to read than the Omikuji stories, though, they are also maybe more likely to live jangling in the back of your head long after the book is closed.
Some standouts, for me: “Urchins, While Swimming” left me cold, meaning chilled; “Bones Like Black Sugar” and “A Delicate Architecture” make an interesting Handsel and Gretel diptych; “Mother is a Machine” for its texture and flow; “Days of Flaming Motorcycles” for a zombie post-apocalypse; “Palimpsest”, the story which inspired the novel, always one I come back to; “Secretario” for its essentialization of the noir detective genre.
The book contains every one of Valente’s published stories up to its publication date, without any exceptions that I’m aware of, and although some judicious editing might have produced a more coherent whole it’s very interesting to watch her explore and grow as a writer, interesting to watch themes and images and even individual words flow through her body of work.
Always Valente’s language is marvelous and lush. Sometimes the words do feel chosen for their weight and meter more than their meaning, and I am finding, to my disappointment, that some of those repeated images lose their luster with overuse, and I begin to wonder how these insects can be inlaid with such precious materials, and what the economics of their production are, and who mines them. Surely some of Valente’s writing comes from the same place; the curse, such as it is, of the science fiction writer.
Definitely recommended, and brilliant to come back to repeatedly for as long as it lasted me.