Evoking eras from the medieval to the postapocalyptic and built around various forms including slave narratives, found documents, and gothic tales complete with sly scholarly notes, Benz’s debut collection of 10 stories is impressive but uneven. The opening story, “West of the Known,” is a 2014 O. Henry Prize winner and one of book’s strongest. Vividly refashioning a Western outlaw tale with a female narrator and taut, inventive language, its chain of violation and retribution is emotionally compelling and historically vivid. Another high point is “Accidental,” in which a woman guilty of vehicular manslaughter sets out on a quest driven by family loss, distance, and fallibility. Set in the present and uncomplicated by the tricky strategies that mark much of the rest of the book, it is powerfully nuanced. In contrast, the labored medievalism of “That We May All Be One Sheepfolde, or O Saeculum Corruptissimum,” with its surfeit of phrasing such as “So cumbrous was mine horror upon the gore that wast my father’s face,” never moves beyond pastiche. At its best, the collection explores violence, identity, and otherness in sharply observed, fiercely eloquent prose. Benz’s bold experiments with voice and genre sometimes fail to make an authentic emotional connection, but she nevertheless displays her daring and gift for language. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/17/2016 Release date: 01/01/2017 Genre: Fiction
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