cover image Burning Your Boats

Burning Your Boats

Angela Carter. Henry Holt & Company, $30 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4462-1

The late Angela Carter, better known as a novelist (Wise Children), wrote stories throughout her all-too-brief career, and they are all here, handsomely and perceptively introduced by Salman Rushdie, who was an old friend. These are not at all conventional stories that glimpse moments in contemporary life.They are tales, legends, variations on mythic themes, sparked by writing of great vitality, color and inventiveness, and a deeply macabre imagination. Carter's favorite themes mingle love and death. She cherishes dark forests, winter sunsets, wolves and werewolves, bloody murder, hunters, the cruel, rich husbands of maidens condemned to death. But she also has a ribald, extremely contemporary sense of humor that keeps glancing through the dark mists. Thus John Ford's Jacobean melodrama 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore resurfaces as the script for a movie directed by a 20th-century namesake; a Ph.D. candidate meets his subject's widow, someone very much like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard; and Britain's immortal pantomime characters get a hilarious going-over for their psychosexual significance. There are variations on Lizzie Borden, on the childhood of Edgar Allan Poe and several on Little Red Riding Hood, who gets the better of the Big Bad Wolf in at least two of them (Carter was an ardent but scarcely PC feminist). This is not a collection to be read at a sitting; the stories' jolting intensity makes them indigestible in large doses. But for readers who respond to an antic fancy dressed in highly charged prose, they are a generous treat. (Mar.)