The Cusp of Something, by Jai Claire

Welcome to Day 3 of Small Press Week II! I don’t have a great deal of knowledge about British small presses, anabolics so when Elastic Press offered me a review copy of a book, about it I asked Andrew to provide a short bio of his press. He gave me this:

Elastic Press was founded in 2002 by Andrew Hook, specifically to plug the gap in the short story collection market. It has regularly published at least one book every three months since that date, and has most recently released its twenty-ninth title – The Turing Test by Chris Beckett. They publish a mix of genres and have won four British Fantasy Society awards (Best Small Press 2005, and Best Anthology for the years 2005, 2006 and 2007). They can be found at www.elasticpress.com.

I’m impressed. The book I chose was written by a woman named Jai Claire; she looks extremely young, but based on the amount of things she’s accomplished in her life, she must be somewhat older than she looks. She teaches creative writing to adults and has what appears to be the British equivalent of an MFA in creative writing. Her website (here) is interesting although not exactly full of the normal information I put in these little blurbs.

Anyway, The Cusp of Something is a collection of twenty-five short stories; many have been published in other places such as literary magazines. The earliest piece in the collection was published in 1998; a few are original to the collection. The stories all have in common a similar dark, lush tone; some are in first person, others in second or third. They are mostly set during the current time, but they do range into misty times in the future and intimations of the past, as well. The author describes them as literary fiction; most are such, but a few involve magic, mysticism, and the unknown in various forms.

The collection itself is fairly short — only two hundred pages — but, as I mentioned, it contains 25 stories. They range in length from a couple pages to more than ten, but all are fairly brief. However, the brevity doesn’t diminish their impact. Each story sucked me in within a few paragraphs and created its own world; by the end of each story, I had a good image of what the author was trying to say. Ms. Claire writes in a vaguely stream-of-consciousness style; not so much in the way of James Joyce, but in a way where I mostly felt that we were experiencing the adjective-heavy thoughts of the main character. I am unfortunately not a lit crit theorist, so I don’t know what to call it, but here’s an example:

You came to me later, mostly silent, easy to manoeuvre. You said, “I can never love again. I am emptied of love.” A whole ocean washed between us. You seemed to vanish into the water, under the floorboards into the hole that emerged and swallowed you. I stood there, just stood there, suddenly disenfranchised, suddenly purposeless. (From “The Balloons”)

My favorite stories were “The Ruins of Lutz” and “The Land is Lighting”; these were also two of the more fantasy-inspired of the lot. In the first story, two characters (a brother and a sister) go to Greece, to explore a city called Lutz which is mostly ruins underwater; Lutz was supposed to have been the most spiritual city in existence. It was supposedly more impressive than Rome at one point; the siblings’ discoveries are more than mere rocks. “The Land is Lighting” takes place in the near future, where people are penned into cities and an escape into the countryside is a frightening thing. Two young men and a young woman discover the world outside of their world.

This is not a light collection, or one to be read at the beach. The majority of the stories aren’t exactly happy, if one dichotomizes stories into ‘happy’ and ‘unhappy.’ Many of them involve violence; many involve sex; some even include sexualized violence. None, however, were particularly gratuitous in description, and more seemed to waft off into a dissolution rather than ending with a strike. I would definitely recommend these stories to the more literary-minded fans of Neil Gaiman’s and Charles de Lint’s short stories; they’re darker than the latter and more realistic than either in particular, but they retain some of the same feeling. Fans of Tanith Lee or Angela Carter might enjoy these as well; the tone and subjects are often similar. 4.5/5 stars.

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