Poppy Z. Brite, |
(Subterranean Press, 2007)
Antediluvian Tales is a collection of eight interconnected stories set in and around New Orleans, plus a nonfiction piece about the final day of author Poppy Z. Brite's 2005 Australian vacation. All but two of the stories center on members of the Stubbs family, a motley bunch who have also featured in several of Brite's novels. The remaining stories concern themselves with New Orleans coroner Doctor Brite, the author's alter-ego, "a pompous, self-centered cuss who blathered about food when other people were trying to hold a serious conversation."
One story, "The Working Slob's Prayer: Being a Night in the History of the Peychaud Grill," overlaps between the Stubbs family and Doc Brite storylines. But in a rather confusing twist, in this one story Doctor Brite is presented as female whereas in the other two Brite tales the doctor is male.
There are some supernatural trappings in a few of the stories -- a mischievous ghost in the walls of the family home and a levitating crucifix in "The Devil of Delery Street," a haunted Russian after-dinner treat in "Wound Man & Horned Melon Go to Hell." But to refer to these stories as fantasy or horror would be a misrepresentation. Brite has created a world only slightly askew of our own and has populated it with believably quirky characters who occasionally, but not frequently, brush shoulders with something not entirely rational.
While I enjoyed the writing in Antediluvian Tales I didn't find that these quiet stories grabbed hold of my imagination in a way that would leave a truly lasting impression. I found the Doctor Brite pieces somewhat more engaging simply because there was a consistent lead character, while the other stories were told from the perspectives of a number of members of the Stubbs clan. And with only about 60 pages of fiction scattered between a handful of Stubbs protagonists, it's tough to sink one's teeth into the characters.
For me the standout piece in this slim volume is "The Last Good Day of My Life (A True Story)." Here Brite chronicles the final day of her vacation in Australia. She spent her time indulging in some extremely fruitful bird-watching and a frustrating meander through the streets of Cairns, "a small coastal city most visitors use as a jumping-off point to snorkel The Great Barrier Reef."
What makes this closing document so powerful, however, is the juxtaposition between the idyllic calm of a lazy, sunny afternoon in a strange and beautiful land and the terrible turmoil that would shortly come to dominate the author's life when Hurricane Katrina ripped apart her hometown. As Brite wrote in her introduction to Antediluvian Tales, "I feel that my own work has been irrevocably split into two periods: Pre-K and Post-K. I usually wait until I have enough stories for a full-length book -- twelve or thirteen at least -- before beginning to collect them. After the events of 2005, though, I couldn't see pairing stories I'd written before the flood with those I'd written after."
So my sense of this being somewhat less than a fully satisfying collection of fiction is part of the conscious design of the book. But at a very slight 116 pages, including the introduction and an appendix that provides a chronological ordering of the Stubbs family stories, Antediluvian Tales, while well-written and featuring one real gem, is not exactly a bargain of a book.
10 November 2007