Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Angels of Our Better Beasts - review by S. E.

Angels of Our Better BeastsAngels of Our Better Beasts by Jerome Stueart
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Angels of Our Better Beasts is fantastic, evocative fiction that will make you laugh while you think.

Jerome Stueart’s The Angels of Our Better Beasts invites you to role-play as humans, lemmings, werewolves, & vampires, in a splendid 15 tale collection. With each entry you’ll find new perspectives on what it means to be a human (angel or beast). Most are weird, fantasy and sci-fi, and the relationship span the gamut from lemming-to-researcher, to husband-to husband, and wife-to-husband, etc. The variety is great, but Stueart’s keen sense of humanity, and the role art plays in our relationships, is the key strength. Few times have weird fiction actually evoked real emotions. Fittingly there is a bonus too, since the author provides his own illustrations throughout.

The best way to convey the voice/tone is with excerpts. For selected tales, I include those below. My favorites were (1) a bold, pseudo-2nd person story in a sci-fi setting in which an artist strives to save humanity “You Will Draw This Life Out To Its End” and (2) a haunting futuristic setting in which one must choose between leaving home (a place) or leaving family; the theme of impermanence is truly evocative ( “For a Look at New Worlds”). Lastly, I’ll call out an example of the creative milieus by highlighting the names of wine from one story that, if drank, will literally evoke memories such as The First Time We Made Love at My Apartment in Yokoshima, Absence of Tourists During the Rain at Inokashira Koen, and The Moon Over Tokyo Through Fall Leaves (from “The Moon Over Tokyo Through Fall Leaves”).

“If animals talk, then they can’t just be eaten as food anymore. They aren’t any more a part of the food chain than humans are. If everything talks, where do you draw the line on feeling for them as individuals?” -Lemmings in the Third Year

“I remember my wife and kid left me. I’d find myself standing in the music section just scanning the tapes, asking myself which song would save me from all this pain. I’d bring home the Charlie Daniels Band, Alabama, Dolly. Sometime the names would blur and I’d look up and find out I’d been there an hour, trying to find something to soothe the ache….Mostly I just see them using carts as walkers, slowly moving down the aisles, overwhelmed by all the possibilities they have to make that need disappear. Yeah, I guess, in a way, a lot of people came to Walmart to pray.” - Heartbreak, Gospel, Shotgun, Fiddler, Werewolf, Chorus: Bluegrass

“We cause emotions without product directive, emotions without prescription. People read our writing and feel something, and they don’t know what to do with that emotion. In the city, all those pretty pieces of writing you see—most of them done by us when we absolutely have to earn money—have a directive: but this tooth cream, explore this underground chasm, invest in this high-rolling casino. So if we make you feel sad or happy, you can find resolution in a purchase. But literature, on the other hand, doesn’t let you off the hook that easy, and that’s why there was a time when we were blamed for a lot of murders and mayhem that went on.” - Why the Poets Were Banned from the City

“Young painters might be asking if there is a place for art in politics, if you are sullying your reputation,” a renowned art magazine says to you in an interview being recorded for later broadcast. “What do you say to them about the nature of true art and its neutral place outside the quagmire of human rivalry?” -You Will Draw This Life Out To Its End

“Many walked up, and with a hundred fingers they carved swaths of themselves across the sand, ruining the beautiful design. The destruction of such beauty was supposed to bring home the price of violence, the pledge for peace. Today, though, it felt as if those fingers had pushed into her heart.” -For a Look at New Worlds

Table of Contents
[*Published before in print or award recipient, ranging from 2005 through 2015]

* “Sam McGee Argues with His Box of Authentic Ashes” (Beast = Sam McGee)
* “Lemmings in the Third Year” (Beast = lemmings or man)
“Heartbreak, Gospel, Shotgun, Fiddler, Werewolf, Chorus: Bluegrass” (Beast = man or werewolf)
* “Old Lions” (Beast = man or lion)
* “The Moon Over Tokyo Through Fall Leaves” (Beast = man and the past)
* “How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” (Beast = Vampires)
* “Bondsmen” (Beast = 007 agents?)
* “Et Tu Bruté” (Beast = Ape)
* Why the Poets Were Banned from the City (Beast = man or art)
“You Will Draw This Life Out To Its End” (Beast = man or art)
* “For a Look at New Worlds” (Beast = memories/holograms)
* “Brazos” (Beast = God)
“Awake, Gryphon!” (Beast = man and gryphon)
* “Bear With Me” (Beast = man or bear)
* “The Song of Sasquatch” (Beast is either Nature or man)

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