Book Look: And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe


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I intended to spend most of my long weekend off reading, as I usually do whenever I get a three day stretch to myself. Did I? Not exactly. I got some reading done, but most of it was spent with one of my sisters or watching The Crown with my mother. In the middle of all of the nonsense, I did manage to get one of my impulse purchases read and...well...guys.

Guys.

I've never read anything like this. I mean, sure, I've read short story anthologies and I've read horror anthologies, but this should really have a category of its own.

I am not a natural romance reader. I think, once upon a time, I used to be but now so much of it has lost its shine for me, so when I read fiction I gravitate to something gritty. Something real. Something that makes me feel like maybe there's not something intrinsically wrong with me -- or if there is, there are other people who are a little bit broken, too. It's less isolating. On one of my many jaunts through Amazon looking for books to buy for the library, I managed to stumble into this beauty and the description just intrigued me.

"A murdered movie star reaches out to an unlikely fan. An orchard is bewitched with poison apples and would-be princesses. A pair of outcasts fail a questionnaire that measures who in their neighborhood will vanish next. Two sisters keep a grotesque secret hidden in a Victorian bathtub. A dearly departed best friend carries a grudge from beyond the grave."

All of these things appeal to my interests! And it's cheap!

So, reader, of course I bought it. Of course I did.

And the beauty Gwendolyn Kiste writes with just took my breath away.

If I've counted it right, there are fourteen stories in this book. Fourteen very different stories, at least half of them fantastical in nature, and I could see myself in all of them. This is an anthology that celebrates women, every aspect of them (not just the pretty parts). The first story Something Borrowed, Something Blue is a second person narrative that puts the reader in the body of a woman who keeps giving birth to all manner of birds, something that tears her apart each time, something that always leaves her feeling bereft, like with each bird she loses a part of herself.

And perhaps she does.

The narrator in this story was abandoned by everyone who loved her because she could not fit into the mold of who they thought she should be. Perhaps, at one time, who she wanted to be. At the end of it all, embracing who she is and what she gives life to ultimately sets her free. And that's just the first part of the book.

You'll walk through a dystopia, a fairy tale flipped on its head, and several ghost stories that will leave you feeling haunted on a personal level. I will say this isn't for the faint of heart: you'll encounter abuse, the delicate nature of falling in love (how fragile it is when you can't stay), and unhealthy relationships at pretty much every turn, but the ride is so worth it. Every time I got to the end of a story, I'd flip the page eager for more, only to discover I was at the end and the entire thing had changed. This. This is what I've been searching for in everything I've read recently: something that genuinely kept me on the edge of my seat, something that kept me guessing. Something that could ring true to me in this stage of my life.

I found it.

Writing like this reminds me why I earned my degree in literature, why I wanted to study it at all. If you're familiar with The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and, better yet, if you liked that then this is 100% up your alley. If you've spent more of your years identifying with Ophelia than Juliet, this is for you. If you just like beautiful prose, this is probably for you.

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