Author: Margo Lanagan
Release Date: June 18, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source: NetGalley DRC, Edelweiss DRC
Genre(s): Young Adult, Short Stories, Fantasy, Horror, Speculative Fiction
Review Spoilers: N/A
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First off, please forgive the title of this article. I was strapped for ideas and I thought, hey, ‘yellow cake’ and baking… yeah. I know. Not at all original and not at all relevant to the review at hand. So sue me.
But don’t. Please. I’m sorry.
Secondly, this is a strange review for me to write only because it’s going to be a very positive review about a book of short stories. Very rarely do I find that I enjoy short story compilations. I’m not sure why I just inherently seem to dislike them. More than likely I’m just not the biggest fan of short form storytelling. Which, actually, is a bit strange because I really like flash fiction. But I digress. The point that I’m making here is that Yellowcake – a book of short stories by the fantastic Margo Lanagan – won me over where so many other selections of short stories have failed.
Why did I find this collection in particular so compelling?
You know, it’s kind of hard for me to answer that. I think a lot of it is owed to how simple and immediately engaging Lanagan’s writing style is in these stories. One of the reasons I have a hard time with short stories is that I don’t feel like I’ve been given enough reason to care or that I don’t quite have all the information I need. It makes it hard for me to enjoy the story then. But I didn’t really have that problem with these books. Yes, they are very tradition in short stories in the sense that they can’t tell you everything and they do pretty much immediately jump into things but they still take the time to really introduce you to what’s going on, the characters, and the settings.
What I think I appreciated most was the tone of the collection. The stories themselves are all very different and I think the publisher really nails it when they describe them as “each… fiercely original and quietly heartbreaking.” Lanagan managed to find the write words to say everything she was trying to say with a sort of prose and haunting attention to detail that really drove each story home. Now, some of the stories were stronger than others. There were a couple duds and a few where – though the writing was great – the story itself was a little underdeveloped, the premise less clear. Still, even that didn’t distract from just how well the collection worked together.
Really, this is a collection of short stories that truly stands out from the rest. I cannot compliment the author’s style enough or praise how well she changed from genre to genre so easily and surely. Some of my favorite stories were the Ferryman, Into the Clouds on High, and Catastrophic Disruption of the Head. There were other good ones but these three managed to stand out the most for me. If you’ve got a chance to check out the book you should definitely start with these three if you read any of them at all.
I know that this is a young adult novel but I think that anyone who enjoys short stories will really enjoy these ones. Some of the stories, too, are dark enough that they read almost as adult stories and the themes in some of the stories are actually very deep and complex. They really make you think and introduce you to concepts that really illicit some pretty strong emotional responses. The fact that Lanagan is able to do this so well just shows how great of a writer she really is and how much you really should check out this book.
I don’t recommend short story collections often so you should really take note of this one. It’s a fantastic mix of very well written, well thought out stories that really get you thinking. Though it’s billed as a young adult book it’s certainly not just for teenagers and I think most people will find that the stories included in this particular book are well worth the read.