youhaveneverbeenhere

The book blurb:

Open this book to any page and find yourself enspelled by these lush, alchemical stories. Faced with the uncanny and the impossible, Rickert’s protagonists are as painfully, shockingly, complexly human as the readers who will encounter them. Mothers, daughters, witches, artists, strangers, winged babies, and others grapple with deception, loss, and moments of extraordinary joy.

My review:

There are short stories in ‘You Have Never Been Here’ that are unsettling and disturbing, odd and brilliant, strange and weirdly beautiful, all at the same time. All the short stories share an ever-present vibe of dark suspense and skewed reality that keeps you on edge throughout, and some of the stories are so skillfully executed in their madness that I know they will stick with me for a long time.

Rickert’s tales teem with death and ghosts and bones, love and loss and haunting imagery. There are dead children, winged children, ghost children, and children collecting bones. There are drowned women who work in coffee shops, a shoe-box full of stones that hold memories of past lives, men building boats in their backyards, a corpse painter, and a strange place that might or might not be a hospital, and a train that might or might not really be a train taking patients to that hospital.

The stories that appealed to me most were ‘Memoir of a Deer Woman’, where a woman is slowly turning into (back into?) a deer; ‘The Shipbuilder’, where a man named Quark tries to understand his own past and his abusive father (or is it really his father?); and especially ‘The Christmas Witch’.

‘The Christmas Witch’ is a brilliant dark fable, set in the present day (sort of) about a girl named Rachel who collects bones and realizes that she can make the bones dance. This short story is perfectly crafted: a complex weave of witchcraft, weirdness, family, childhood, grief, fear, and loss; with a child at its center who is just as complicated and ornery and powerful and strange as real children can be.

‘You Have Never Been Here’, the final short story in the collection, is another one that will definitely stay with me. It’s about a woman on a train, heading to a hospital, and yet it’s not really about that at all, but maybe about life and death and love and the terror and beauty of being alive.

This is a strange and often wonderful collection of stories, even though there are a couple of tales (‘Holiday’ and ‘The Chambered Fruit’ come to mind) that I found so unsettling that they were almost difficult to read. That said, I have a feeling that different readers will find different tales to be the most unsettling.

If you’re into twisted tales that veer off into suspense and even include a dab of restrained horror, then this is a book for you.

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