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Regret, sorrow, obsession, and yearning are so present in Forget the Sleepless Shores that it’s almost like they’re main characters. The human (and otherworldly) protagonists caught in their clutches often find words failing them—so light must speak, or clouds, or objects, or landscapes, but most of all, bodies must speak, skin to skin, sweat to sweat, intermingled breath, hands tangling in hair or gripping wrists. It’s sensuousness with an incandescent filament of the erotic threading through it, surrounded by the glowing unknowable.

Since bodies are so often the medium of communication, it’s only right that Taaffe should lavish attention on them. Pick any story; you’ll see:
But she did not look like a mourner, or like family—her calf-high boots and her fringed leather jacket, mottled green as a turtle’s flesh; the thousand fine plaits of her hair that still swung past her shoulders, weighted like coarse black silk, and her dark face modeled as austerely as a tomb painting. Thin bronze bracelets on her wrists, and her earrings were the gas-flame hearts of peacock feathers, cut like cat’s eyes. Her voice was low, cadenced.. (“Chez Vous Soon”)

In the ragged handful of light, her face looked more whittled than grown: nicks of the knife-tip for cheekbones and mouth, deep-set eyes notched out beneath parenthetical brows and her straight lines unbent only where her hair slid down past her shoulders, ginger-flecked as a fox’s pelt; a sketch in spiky pen-lines, nib scratches and spattered ink. (“A Little Fix of Friction”)

She liked my broad shoulders under their brown coat, my hair always falling chestnut-slick into my eyes; she liked my wind-rawed cheeks and my mulish jaw, the work-hardened span of my hands with their popped knuckles and old roughened marks of sacks and crates and shovels and drystone walls. (“The Creeping Influences”)

And when bodies come together? Well.
Clare roped her arms around his back, her chin in the hollow of his shoulder and his wild hair soft and scratching down the side of her neck, and held him fast. Embracing so tightly there was no way to breathe, no space for air, not even vacuum between them, like two halves of the universe body-slammed together and sealed, cleaving. (“The Dybbuk in Love”)

As for the stories themselves, there is something here for everyone who relishes what they’ve tasted so far. There are angels and demons, soulmates through the looking glass, friends from the next universe over, golems, ghosts, otherworldly beings; there are riffs on Tam Lin and Dracula and Lovecraft mythos; there are references to the classical world, to Jewish folklore, to the Manhattan Project—and this collection is enthusiastically LGBTQ inclusive.

I have some favorites. I like “Like Milkweed,” in which creatures resembling monarch butterflies, but human-sized, have come into the world. Are they the souls of people who’ve passed away? Alicja has scoffed at this idea, and at the story of the Japanese woman who laid her dead husband’s favorite meal on the balcony for the monarch who visited—even though the monarchs don’t eat. So what does Alicja do and feel when, more than a year after her lover disappeared in anger, a monarch comes banging at her window?

Then there’s “The Salt House,” which I could describe as the super-poignant tale of a non-custodial father getting a visit from his adolescent daughter—but you must also imagine that the father desperately loved the mother, who had to leave him because of who she was and what she couldn’t give up. And you must also imagine the sea.

And I love how you can pair “The Dybbuk in Love,” told from the perspective of the woman the dybbuk loves, with its mirror, “Exorcisms,”—love seen from the perspective of the possessing spirit.

And speaking of mirror tales, I was utterly charmed by “When Can a Broken Glass Mend?” which begins with a seven-year-old playing in her grandparents’ attic—which could be the attic my sister and I played in at *my* grandmother’s house, for the items in it—and meeting a child from within a standing mirror there:
Beside her the other child was a thin candleflame, vague and luminous at once. Its hair was dark and, when they shook hands, its grip was stronger than Aronowicz’s, who even at seven years old did not quite think of herself as Rokhl, her parents’ throwback gift. The other child had an ordinary name. She said it was lucky and it shrugged. “Everybody’s parents are
weird,” it said, with grade-school world-weariness, and Aronowicz knew then that she had made a friend.


The collection hits the marketplace tomorrow. That means you can still be ahead of the game and preorder now—here’s an Amazon link. Or, if you prefer, you can check out the book’s page at Lethe Press, the publisher.

This entry was originally posted at https://asakiyume.dreamwidth.org/890932.html. Comments are welcome at either location.

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