Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: A Handful of Pearls

A Handful of Pearls
Beth Bernobich
Lethe Press

'Lo Peoples,

I am rather fond of short story collections. So it was no struggle at all to read Beth Bernobich's A Handful of Pearls. I finished it in two sittings which is one of the wondrous things about short stories. For a reader with plenty of time, there is the fun of plunging into a fully-formed world, and then coaxing oneself onwards for a few pages more until one has missed one's bus stop, or the phone rings, or one can't keep one's eyes open any longer.

First, as a writer I must appreciate James Patrick's Kelly's Preface. He makes some observations about the themes Bernobich deals with in her work, namely, secrecy. He has "called it" as some Black people say in urban circles, so I almost have nothing to add there.

I will turn my attention to what I felt were the strongest of the nine stories. Five times, I found myself swept past my critical purview and delivered straight to the land of emotion. And that is simply what memorable stories do. They drop you somewhere and the rest of the world vanishes save for what comes next upon the page. Poison, Remembrance, Marsdog, the title story,A Handful of Pearls, and Jump to Zion paraded characters struggling with the weight of their desires. Daksa, a true hermaphrodite, and Kate, a soon-to-be grieving lover, could have been crushed by theirs but find new beginnings. Jimmy AKA Danu-vil-fa (the Talëdi spiderchild) starts with one desire and ends with another desire he had not given much thought to. Yan Dei moves from desire to desire to desire in his relentlessly self-absorbed manner. The herbalist Adjua desires to save her child, meet the demands of a former lover and a secret benefactor and to pay the price that the god of La Trinète requires from her.

I am delighted when a writer whom I do not know to be a lesbian, a devotee of the Orisha, nor a child molester, nor an alien from Jafal can write a character who is lesbian, or a child-molester, or an Orisha devotee, or an alien, and none of the characters can be stacked upon another the way one might do with Russian nesting dolls. I am as testy as one can get about the portrayals of People of Color and the LGBTQ communities. As ambivalent as I am about someone who is not from the Orisha tradition writing about my religious beliefs, I bristled and prepared to find something in Bernobich's work to grate on my nerves. I found only the word Orisha itself used in a milleu where the word Loa would have served more specifically. It is with great relief that I report this.

On an ending note, I am very much for inclusion of the erotic amongst the experiences characters and readers might share in the course of any fiction. I am grateful that Bernobich carries on the fine tradition of including sex (however delicately) in her work.

Note: This copy of A Handful of Pearls was an electronic ARC acquired from the editor upon the reviewer's request. Her Tangh-i-ness reviews on a for-the-love basis. No lucre has been involved.

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