Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String

The title: A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String
The author: Joanne Harris
Publication: Doubleday, 2012
Got it from: The library

Joanne Harris is best known for her novel Chocolat, and I was interested in reading this volume of her short stories with a touch of magic realism.  As in Chocolat, the symbolism of food plays a large role in many of her tales.  In "Cookie," a woman addicted to the comfort of pastries may be giving birth to something made of sugar, spice and everything yeasty.  In "Muse," the narrator lovingly describes a greasy spoon train station cafe, complete with buttery bacon sandwiches.  (This short story also has one of the funniest lines: in several of the stories, including this one, the Gods appear in human disguise.  Quoth the narrator: "The Muse is just an archetype; a metaphor that represents Mankind's eternal striving.  To imagine that they might be real, able to take on human affairs - well, that's just silly.  Isn't it?  It's the sort of thing Jennifer [his wife] might read in a book of short stories written by the kind of frivolous woman writer who happens to like that sort of thing.")

If there's one overarching theme amongst these stories (some of which are interconnected), it's love in strange places.  Let's count them: 1. A woman obsessed with her son thinks his ghost may be appearing on a Twitter feed.  2. A woman carries on a heavy romance with a tree.  3. A man is smitten with Christmas to the point of driving his wife away.  4. A man and woman fall in love with each other through the radio.   5. A former actor falls in love with the house he's renovating and its former inhabitants.  Etc.

Even though the stories could be unsettling, they left me with a sense of hopefulness.  A pair of the stories dealt with the plight of two intelligent older ladies trapped in a retirement home at the mercy of some very unintelligent and mean-spirited administrators.  These could have left me despairing the way the elderly are cared for at the end of their lives, but instead it showed the subtle ways people can fight back against oppression.  Well done.

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