Land of Smoke

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction / Adult Nonfiction - MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER

Sara Gal­lardo Jessica Se­queira (Trans­la­tor) Pushkin Press (JULY) Soft­cover $18 (224pp) 978-1-78227-403-2

Il­lu­sions and ghosts pop­u­late Sara Gal­lardo’s sto­ries, col­lected here in Land of Smoke. These are tales in which a dream come true—a cozy re­tire­ment among the flow­ers; the abil­ity to fly—is apt to quickly be­come night­mar­ish, and in which the con­nec­tions that peo­ple yearn for most, when re­al­ized, often lead to their quick un­do­ing.

At­mo­spheric de­tails cap­ture ice floes, des­o­late caves, and plains over which the wind whips and bites; the specter of the fa­mil­iar slopes through scenes that seem or­di­nary at first glance but that then prove to be darker, edgier, and more ex­pan­sive than ex­pected. Gal­lardo’s hu­man char­ac­ters are at their most vi­va­cious when they tend to their an­i­mal sides, and her an­i­mals have rich lives and needs that be­come a cel­lu­lar-mem­ory pulse across gen­er­a­tions. Mon­sters may ap­pear but then prove to be be­nign—it’s the quiet ones that you have to watch out for.

Sto­ries vary in length. Some are mi­crofic­tion; some wind on through many pages. “Things Hap­pen” is a sur­re­al­is­tic stand­out that be­comes both more un­canny and more sym­pa­thetic as it pro­gresses; tales like “Even” and “That One” man­age their hor­rors and fairy tales in un­der a page. Some sto­ries, like “Cristóbal the Gi­ant,” are imaginative eti­olo­gies that lo­cate the nexus of nat­u­ral beauty in deep, vis­ceral need; oth­ers, like “Ge­or­gette and the Gen­eral,” are en­tirely, achingly hu­man.

Char­ac­ter­i­za­tions play upon dark­ness and de­sire. One man coldly kills oth­ers to get even with life; a hus­band laments a missed op­por­tu­nity to mur­der his wife; a killer glee­fully hides among those sent to catch him; a mother freely ad­mits that she loves two of her chil­dren best. Re­demp­tion may have a reli­gious edge, but that’s often more about con­ve­nience than ac­tual be­lief. At all turns, these sto­ries are un­set­tling, sur­pris­ing, and un­miss­able. Land of Smoke is a boun­ti­ful col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, full of sharp edges, odd magic, and un­ex­pected al­lure.

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