cover image Red Dust and Dancing Horses and Other Stories

Red Dust and Dancing Horses and Other Stories

Beth Cato. Fairwood, $17.99 trade paper (366p) ISBN 978-1-933846-68-2

In this capable collection, Cato (the Blood of Earth series) assembles stories and poems first published between 2009 and 2016, arranged thematically in five sections. A brief history of each work is given in a charming afterword, illuminating the write-submit-reject-revise struggle with a light and rueful honesty; a similar tone pervades the book. Though not every story is optimistic, the most memorable ones weave unpalatable truths—that bugs will eat treasures, that grandmothers will die, that the world will end—with the sweetness that keeps life going. Hope is as incontrovertible as misery. The standouts include the title story, about a girl on Mars who is determined to build her fantasy equine; “Hat Trick,” which reenvisions what a superhero power looks like and how it functions in the world; and “A Dance to End Our Final Day,” in which an autistic child who can’t understand that apocalypse is at hand enjoys the simple pleasures of cookies and the playground. Cato, a Civil War buff, includes alternate Confederacy scenarios that, in 2017, may not land quite as originally intended; for example, “The Souls of Horses” features an enslaved black man who sculpts metal steeds for Confederate officers. But on the whole, Cato hits her intended targets with compassion and insight, and her work is suitable for YA and adult audiences alike. (Nov.)