Summary: Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk) has been widely hailed as a highly significant voice in Caribbean and American fiction. She has been dubbed “one of our most important writers,” (Junot Diaz), with “an imagination that most of us would kill for” (Los Angeles Times), and her work has been called “stunning,” (New York Times) “rich in voice, humor, and dazzling imagery” (Kirkus), and “simply triumphant” (Dorothy Allison).
Falling in Love with Hominids presents over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.
Thoughts: I’d never read Nalo Hopkinson before this book. Or so I thought, until one of the stories seemed very familiar; turns out I’d read Old Habits in some other anthology, and I remembered it being one of the ones I’d really enjoyed.
But really, I didn’t even need to read that far to know that I was going to enjoy this collection of short stories. The first story in there, The Easthound, was an interesting take on werewolf lore, combined with a hint of zombie apocalypse. The quality continued two stories later with Message in a Bottle, which was an odd look at time travel and the future of humanity, combined with the trials of mundane adulthood and child-rearing. The Smile on the Face was a really great look at empowerment and overcoming teen social pressure, especially when it comes to appearance and unwanted advances. Emily Breakfast was, well, hard to describe, because it seemed so mundane at first, with a guy losing one of his chickens, only when you get a little further you see lines about chickens being descended from dragons and you realize that this isn’t taking place in the familiar reality we’re all used to. Blushing was just chilling, a very disturbing piece of prose.
A Young Candy Daughter was a good take on the idea that God might be one of us (just a stranger on the bus), only most of the time in such explorations, God is still a white guy in his prime. Or a white woman. But here, you’ve got a little brown girl who has these divine powers and is still in the process of growing up and learning that there’s more to saving people than what a child’s mind can comprehend. It’s not written from her perspective, or even the perspective of her mother, but from a stranger, a Salvation Army Santa Claus who sees the girl fill his coin bucket with food that the hungry can take to feed themselves. It was surprisingly powerful, and while it seems to be one of the stories that didn’t resonate well with other reviewers I’ve seen, I really enjoyed it.
Interestingly, there are many stories in Falling in Love With Hominids that don’t seem to have much point. They’re snippets, scenes rather than stories in the way I’m used to thinking of them, but although they were a few that didn’t really appeal to me, I liked to see that done. Whose Upward Flight I Love features workers trying to restrict trees from flying away. Soul Case involves a woman giving up her life to defeat invaders. Small things, with no real point, per se, but sometimes stories don’t have points. They really are just scenes, ideas, and once you get that down that’s all that needs to happen. It doesn’t need to go anywhere else. From a writing standpoint, I thought this was wonderful, because it shows the value in those little ideas that come to our minds but only stay for a moment and never get elaborated on. From a reading standpoint, though, they do come across as fairly random, without purpose, and often without much story.
Still, I enjoyed some of them.
As a counter to that, though, there are some stories here that I would love to see expanded as novellas or full-out novels, because there’s so much potential to the short story. Message in a Bottle and Delicious Monster are the two that come to mind instantly for this, because there’s so much to them that goes unsaid, so many questions and what-ifs about them that I want to see more. The Easthound, too, to a degree, though that one still works so perfectly a short story that expansion could possibly ruin it.
Hopkinson does some beautiful things with the art of writing, her imagination is without bounds, and she challenges both readers and writers to go beyond what we see as the status quo. The book is filled with characters of colour, with LGBT characters, with characters who, one way or the other, are memorable and real and get to take part in some amazing stories. From this collection, I definitely want to see more of her work; she is without a doubt an author to keep an eye on!
(Received for review from the publisher.)