Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil, by Ananda Lima: Wow. Just Wow.

Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil (out today!) is unlike anything I've ever read. I mean, I've read hundreds and hundreds of books in my life, and this is something completely original. It's somewhere between a short story collection, a book of linked short stories (like Olive Kitteridge or The Tsar of Love and Techno), possibly a memoir, and a novel. I didn't know fiction could do this. Reviewers don't really know what to do with it so far, either -- which is fun. It's sometimes called horror, sometimes sci-fi, sometimes literary fiction, sometimes none of the above OR all of the above. Yep, everything about this book defies categorization. 

Full disclosure, and only partially a humble brag -- Ananda Lima is a colleague of mine at StoryStudio Chicago. I'd been looking forward to this book, though, before I'd met her. But I soon learned she is a kind human and an enthusiastic and generous literary citizen. It's been so fun getting to know her! So frankly, even though I'd been looking forward to it, I picked up her book last month with no small amount of trepidation. What if I didn't like it? How would I talk about it if I didn't? Thankfully, that concern quickly faded. I can tell you with a crystal clear conscience, it is truly fantastic. 

So here's the deal: The book begins with a story about a writer who slept with the Devil on the night of a Halloween party. The subsequent stories are all related, but often in surprising ways. Sometimes the Devil reappears, sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes "the writer" is writing about writing the stories. Sometimes the same story is told from different perspectives or in different ways. Sometimes the stories *seem* to stand completely alone. 

Anyway, the effect, or at least the feeling I had reading this, is that each of the stories is standing in a circle, sort of winking at all the others. The cover art for this book does a great job of subtly capturing the notion that these stories build on each other or are nested within each other (either or both). The connections aren't always overt (but sometimes they are), but also, you don't need to "get" how the stories are connected to enjoy the book on a story-by-story basis. 

I don't know if that makes sense. It's hard to describe well what Ananda is doing here. But what IS clear is that it works. I definitely recommend this for all readers, but especially for readers who are also writers. (If you've ever been in a writing workshop, the story "Idle Hands" will cause you untold amounts of glee.) This is very high on my list of favorites of the year so far. I'm just in awe of this small, but mighty book! 

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