Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Book Review: Skin Deep Magic by Craig Laurance Gidney
I adore short stories, especially fantastical ones. My acquaintance with Craig Laurence Gidney's work actually begins with the YA novel, Bereft, but that's another book to mention in its own review.
I knew I needed to read Skin Deep Magic when I saw the cover.
There's a dark-skinned Black woman's face with eyes closed framed by gold leaves and blossoms. I'm old enough to remember when it wasn't common to see a Black woman on a cover. Even the great departed Octavia Butler was not safe from a Marketing department that believed no one would buy a book with a picture of a Black person on the cover. I must be an anomaly then, because I am one of those Readers who is often enticed by the cover first to sample what's inside the book. And I wanted to buy books with characters who resembled me.
And sure 'nuf' here is Brotha Gidney writing 'bout some most powerful Sistahs in these stories. (Ebonics totally intentional.) I felt like I wanted to be or had been some of these women. And it IS a magical thing when a male writer hangs up his own gender like a coat and dons another dreaming herself into the Reader's reality. (Pronoun Gender switch is totally intentional.) I believed in these women and the gents who graced these pages. Mighty fine writing if you ask me. The African Descended have long utilized the power of the word.
For those of us who identify as Black, our being ignored or belittled subject matter is in escapable as gravity or the call of mortality. I simply wanted to provide the context of why this short story collection so moved me. At some point, a well-meaning person decided that the trope of the Magical Negro was to be scorned. In the context of the Black character who serves no other purpose than to illuminate a white character that person is absolutely correct, however, magic and Blackness are often inseparable and it is to that truth that the tales in Skin Deep Magic speak to.
Her Tangh-i-ness greatly appreciates pithy plot summaries. However, for those who must have a virgin reading experience, read no further, and eyeball elsewhere.
*Spoiler Alert End*
Psychometry, or Gone with the Dust
A mountain of Black memorabilia in a dead woman's home yields some disturbing clues about each piece's origin when touched. As someone who has had real-life experiences with Psychometry, I wouldn't even call this piece fiction. Gidney is simply telling how these things be.
Maybe this is the story that inspired the book cover. A young woman learns she is the daughter of a tree spirit and that joining her absent father in the local greenspace is the highpoint of her existence. This story also features a theme that often crops up in Gidney's work: a conflict due the stranglehold Christian belief on the Old ways of knowing/being.
Two lonely people on either side of a quilt exchange worlds. Eventually, Mauve returns to the known world after a motherless Quentin is drawn into hers. Ahh, the power to be found in stitches.
I had to giggle at this story. Graduate Students under pressure. No one expects trademark imagery to take life and start haunting them. Sheri never suspected her strongest ally would be the one person who could have called the country bumpkin. I need one of those Caution: Educated Black Woman T-shirts.
This is one of my favorite pieces. Back in the day where men loving men gathered, a guardian stood with them. Even when the boys in blue come to bust up the party, they too find themselves pressed man to man and mouth to mouth in 1926.
Here Gidney pays homage to one of his literary forebears. Zora calls upon an Elder to ease her mother's suffering and by story end learns her own path lies in tale-telling and root-working. This is the second of the Christian Vs. Old World Belief themed stories.
Death and Two Maidens
One dead female house servant meets with a living one and both are pestered by the same top-hatted, skull-faced gent. Only a fellow goddess can bring them any defense. Follow the machinations of the Loa whose territories range far outside not only Africa but also the human heart and head.
The highlight of this story is the unflinching look at some of the uglier aspects of Urban Life. The daughter of an abusive addict takes matters into her own hands once she becomes a huntress herself. Who knew toxins and additives could taste so good? One might say the moral of they story is to be kind to those big, fat girls. You never know what they might be capable of.
A deceased, gay, white father and a dead black mother join forces to protect their adult child from an ancient patron of thieves whose modern-day vehicle is a pc game. The question I pondered the longest as I read was did the child even want to be saved?
This is one of my other favorite stories from the collection. Let's deconstruct. What is Negritude? What is a stage performance? What is the performer? What happens when the sensuality of Josephine Baker combines with the rawness and blackness of a Nina Simone? Raise your hand if you thought of Coalrose.
Note: This copy of SkinDeep Magic was a hard copy edition purchased by the reviewer. Her Tangh-i-ness usually reviews on a for-the-love basis. No lucre has been involved.