Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review of TWO Shanna Germain collections

If you don't yet know the work of Shanna Germain, I urge you to dive in and discover as soon as you possibly can! These two reviews were just recently posted on Amazon, and are here presented as a "double feature." Enjoy! (TAS)

Shanna Germain may well be among the most accomplished, consistently interesting, imaginative and original prose stylists in contemporary American fiction, transcending all considerations of genre. She is probably best known for her erotic short fiction, though much of that impressive oeuvre is scattered here and there throughout a vast uncharted nebula of anthologies and compilations. I first encountered her story Smoke and Ashes in the Susie-Bright-edited collection, Bitten, and was immediately taken with Germain's gifts for atmosphere and pacing; form and proportion; and, not least, her striking command of what screenwriters sometimes call "the slow reveal." All these characteristics are very much on display in The Lure of Dangerous Women, Germain's new and not-to-be-missed collection of seven short stories

This review must necessarily be framed in broad terms, as trying to synopsize any of these stories too closely would be to give away their hidden prizes and spoil the payoffs that make them so compelling in the first place. Suffice to say these are stories to be savored, reflected upon and dreamed about, returned to again and again; and always with that same quickening delight of first discovery. Germain's language is lithe and lyrical, prose ravished by poetry; dark fantasies turned on subtle lathes of light. Rare alchemy indeed; these tales are evocations of the elemental drawn from the most exquisite strata of quantum possibility. The author captures those infinitesimal flashes of human experience--the unconsciously commonplace--drawing out what we know in our bones, yet could never express in anything less than music, at least until now.

Ms. Germain is fearless in exploring the shadowy erotic impulses at the heart of some of our most chastely cherished legends (as in Trill, the story that opens the collection). She does not blink when the disturbing logic of her premise is carried out to its inevitable, sometimes horrific conclusion (Animal Instincts, Trill, Seed). She can, with seeming effortlessness, conjure up new cultures and civilizations as with the alien matriarchy of Seed—a strange through-the-looking-glass reflection of our own mores and assumptions about propriety—or the Old-West inflected wilderness of One Woman Town, which seems to occupy the frontier between the epic wastelands of Stephen King's The Gunslinger, and the wind-swept post-apocalyptic ruins of William Miller's A Canticle for Liebowitz.

Critics more jaded than I might complain that there's nothing particularly revolutionary about this bending of myth and folklore through the well-worn prism of Jungian analysis. "Hasn't this sort of thing been done to death?" they may sniff. To which I would reply most emphatically, "not quite like this; seldom with this level of originality, and certainly never so beautifully or with such purely entertaining results."

Few writers employ the first person with such unassuming subtlety. Still fewer so easily break out of established genre patterns to create settings and characters with such consummate economy and soul-searing truth. Germain invites her readers to use their own imaginations in concert with hers. She does not assault our senses or insult our intelligence with bald declarative sentences or awkward backstory digressions. Her sense of timing is uncanny; the unhurried, almost seductive unfolding of plot; the artfully controlled "unwrapping" of essential detail. The stories take shape before our eyes as if viewed from over the shoulder of a master artist at work on a drawing; a single boldly sketched line is all it takes to define a whole new world; a few more delicate strokes of the pencil, a hint of shading, bring that world and its remarkable inhabitants to unforgettable life. We may, perhaps, be left guessing, pleasantly, at the end, having been given only enough information as our imaginations require to soar.

The Lure of Dangerous Women is recommended without reservation.


While those of us who believe in erotica as a serious literary endeavor may never fully succeed in winning over the skeptics; we might go a long way to further our cause by gifting them all copies of Shanna Germain’s Beneath Sea and Sky. This collection of six short stories is a feast of sheer sensuous delight, as cleverly conceived and beautifully written as anything currently to be found in contemporary adult fiction.
Though, perhaps, not originally intended as such, Beneath Sea and Sky makes a satisfying companion and compliment to Ms. Germain’s superb recent collection, The Lure of Dangerous Women. The two collections share many of the same broad themes, stylized genre-riffs, lush atmosphere and vibrant moods, and while the stories in Lure are not ‘erotica’ per se, there is a strong, pulsing undercurrent of eroticism in many of them. That same irresistible rhythm—albeit seldom overly explicit or gratuitous—beats much closer to the surface in Beneath Sea and Sky. Readers who relished the sheer virtuosity of Lure (as I did) will not be disappointed; those in search of something more overtly sexy will be astonished and most delectably seduced.
Ms. Germain is as persuasively adept at sci-fi and paranormal fantasy as she is with more poetically-tinged magical realism and mainstream narratives; her settings, often mysterious, vaguely alien, yet sometimes frighteningly familiar as if viewed through weirdly distorted mirrors, turning taboo on its head and trite assumption on its heels. She takes infectious delight in probing the darker erogenous recesses of familiar legends and fairytales. Skin Deep, her lyrical reimagining of Beauty and the Beast owes more to Cocteau and A.N. Roquelaure than Disney, while remaining wholly the author’s own; and in The Princess of Silk and Pain an oft-told bedtime story is given a decidedly grownup BDSM twist.
How, we wonder, can a writer so easily, so believably occupy her characters’ spaces—inner as well as outer?  How is she able to get into their heads so completely, so convincingly? And there are so many very different heads; a besotted gay man in the title story, an unwillingly sheltered noblewoman in The Princess of Silk and Pain, a lonely pastry chef in Devil’s Food, a disillusioned housewife in Hands of Time.
It is, perhaps, Germain’s unfailing sense of wonder that makes these stories so compelling. This is not a naïve or child-like wonder; nor jaded, synthesized sentimentality, the facile façade of lost innocence; but, rather, the inextinguishable joy of discovery; the sublimity of the ever-new. As the narrator of the title story tells us:

“What is there to like about Skye?  . . . I’d say it’s his idealism, his belief that anything’s out there if you just have the right equipment. But I’m not sure he actually believes that, so perhaps, what’s attractive about him is really his belief in his belief. Because if he believes, even without proof, then maybe, just maybe, there really is something out there. Something unnamable and unknowable. Something wonderful and still undiscovered , tucked into that unknown place that lies between sea and sky.” 
Shanna Germain’s Beneath Sea and Sky is highly recommended.

Terrance Aldon Shaw (TAS)