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Gifts for the One Who Comes After Paperback – September 15, 2014
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―Neil Gaiman, author of Ocean at the End of the Lane
"Helen Marshall whispers in your ear when she fits the noose around your neck, filling you with wonder and dread, urging you into a startling, beautiful darkness. These stories ― which sometimes feel more like spells are the very best kind of unsettling."
―Benjamin Percy author of Red Moon and The Wilding
"Helen Marshall is one of my favorite living writers. Her elegant, grotesque stories are best encountered like this, gathered together in a book and in conversation with each other; only then can you appreciate the staggering variety of her imagination. What unifies them, and what elevates them from being merely great fantasy to being literature, is the ache of human experience that informs them all: the yearning; the heartbreak; the desperate, misinformed love. This is life, in all its beauty and sorrow."
"Gifts For The One Who Comes After should single out Marshall as one of the most accomplished writers of the fantastic being published today, an exceptional collection likely to be among the best 2014 has to offer."
―This Is Horror
". . . As she proved in her 2012 debut, Hair Side, Flesh Side, Marshall is a master at ?bizarre, myth-infused scenarios that play on a reader’s subconscious in ways creepy and oddly pleasurable. Gifts For The One Who Comes After extends this practice with a suite of tales that employ tropes borrowed from Gothic and Grand Guignol traditions, viewing quotidian reality through a distorted lens that exaggerates angles and shadows, making the real unreal or, at the very least, surreal."
―The National Post
From the Inside Flap
World Fantasy Award for Best Collection (Winner)
Shirley Jackson Award for Best Collection (Winner)
British Fantasy Award for Best Collection (Short-list)
Bram Stoker Award for Best Collection (Short-list)
Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize (Long-list)
Edge Hill Short Story Prize (Long-list)
Top customer reviews
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There are many readers and critics who have already praised Helen Marshall's stories. I also praise them, because it's almost impossible not to be impressed and moved by her odd stories. This is the first time I've read a collection by Helen Marshall, but it definitely won't be the last time, because I liked this collection very much. I intend to read all of the author's books as soon as possible.
Helen Marshall's Gifts for the One Who Comes After is one of the best fantasy, dark fantasy, horror and new weird flavoured short story collections I've read to date, because it contains beautiful, moving, haunting, clever and disturbing stories that will linger on the reader's mind. The tender brutality and thrilling oddness of these stories is something to behold (this unique combination of tender brutality and oddness sets the author apart from all other similar authors).
In my opinion, Helen Marshall is clearly one of the most talented new speculative fiction authors, because she dares to explore the human condition and the workings of a human mind in an intriguing way by adding supernatural elements to everyday life and making them part of the characters' lives so that the supernatural feels at times almost natural. Reading about how the characters live their lives and how they act to different situations is genuinely interesting.
Gifts for the One Who Comes After contains the following stories:
- The Hanging Game
- Secondhand Magic
- I'm the Lady of Good Times, She Said
- Lessons in the Raising of Household Objects
- All My Love, a Fishhook
- In the Year of Omens
- The Santa Claus Parade
- The Zhanell Adler Brass Spyglass
- Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta
- Crossroads and Gateways
- Ship House
- A Brief History of Science Fiction
- Supply Limited, Act Now
- We Ruin the Sky
- In the Moonlight, the Skin of You
- The Gallery of the Eliminated
- The Slipway Grey
All the stories in this collection are good, but some of them are clearly better than others. Although I enjoyed certain stories more than others, I have nothing bad to say about any of these stories, because all of them are worth reading.
At first these stories may appear to be simple, but they're anything but simple. These stories are surprisingly complex, because the author has constructed them in such a way that you'll gradually notice how much depth there is in them.
Here's a few examples of what these stories have in store for the readers:
"The Hanging Game" is a brilliantly chilling and unsettling story about a macabre children's game. The children have learned the game from their parents and thus the game is almost like a dark heritage that's passed on from generation to generation. (This story can be found online at tor.com.)
"Secondhand Magic" is a fascinating and a bit different kind of a story about magic and a young magician whose magic trick goes wrong.
"I'm the Lady of Good Times, She Said" is fascinatingly strange story about a gun, Smiley, Carl and Juney.
"Lessons in the Raising of Household Object" is a good story about a tomato soup can and a child whose mother is pregnant.
"Supply Limited, Act Now" is a fantastic story about Larry and a miniature dog.
"The Zhanell Adler Brass Spyglass" is a well written story about Danny who tries to find out what went wrong with his parents' lives.
"The Gallery of the Eliminated" is an intriguing story about a young boy called Walter and a different kind of natural history exhibition. I found it interesting that the author wrote about extinction in a fluent way in this story.
There's much more weirdness to be found on the pages of this short story collection, but I won't reveal more information about the stories. I'll only mention that I think readers will be glad to read these stories, because they're well written stories.
Helen Marshall is an author who immediately manages to impress the reader. She easily captures the reader's imagination and lures him/her into a world of fascinating weirdness, because she views the world and life through a skewed lens. She uses weirdness in a bold yet subtle way, which is one of the reasons why her stories work so well.
It's a bit difficult to describe these stories to readers who haven't read them, because they must be experienced personally to understand their subtle beauty and power. The author writes about life as it is and shows her readers what kind of joys and sorrows life brings to people: love, death, hope, darkness and wonders.
The stories in this collection feature weirdness in different ways and they differ from other authors' weird stories. The author approaches weirdness in her own way by writing about how something unexpected or horrifying happens to the characters. There are many recurring themes in this collection. It was interesting for me to see how the author used recurring themes, but didn't repeat herself.
It was fascinating to read about how the author wrote about families, parents and children. As all readers know, the relationships between family members are often complex and changes may happen in the family. In these stories the author shows how children feel about changes and how they react to new things. I've read many weird stories that feature children, but I've seldom read stories as good as these, because the author has a way of making the children behave in a believable way, because children can be quirky and are capable of reacting abruptly and even strangely to changes. For example, in "The Zhanell Adler Brass Spyglass" the author writes well about how Danny feels about his mother's male friend and decides to hate him.
Helen Marshall manages to evoke feelings of loss, love, longing and terror in the reader. Depending on the reader's taste in weird stories and stories that contain supernatural elements, these stories will either fascinate or chill the reader (or perhaps they'll do both). For me, this is a sign of a quality author, because only talented authors are capable of causing this kind of an emotional response in the reader.
I dare say that The Gifts for the One Who Comes After is one of the best collections of modern new weirdish stories published during the recent years, because it contains different kind of stories and has something for almost everybody. I think that this collection will please many readers and it will especially be of interest to readers who love the weirder side of speculative fiction.
Helen Marshall has her own unique writing style, which reminds me a bit of Nathan Ballingrud's writing style. She is capable of writing the same kind of sad, bleak and unsettling stories as Nathan Ballingrud, but her stories are also strangely beautiful and moving and thus they differ from Ballingrud's stories.
I have to mention that the illustrations by Chris Roberts look great and help to enhance the unsettling nature of the stories.
Like many other short story collections which feature weird stories, The Gifts for the One Who Comes After may or may not be of interest to certain readers, because weird stories have a tendency to either fascinate or annoy readers, but all readers who like weird stories will most likely be impressed by this collection. It's possible that newcomers who aren't familiar with this kind of genre fiction will find this collection interesting, because it's an easily accessible collection.
If you like weird and unsettling stories, The Gifts for the One Who Comes After is a must-read collection for you. In my opinion it's essential reading material for all who enjoy reading extraordinary stories.
There were a couple stories that were difficult for me to read with themes of miscarriage.
I think my favourite story was the one that told you right from the start how the story would end, but encouraged you to read through, because reading the end of the story first wouldn't make any sense. I followed Marshall's instructions, and I understood exactly what she meant. And even with her telling the reader how it would end, I still found it surprising.
The variety of voices and locations was refreshing, and it was amazing how she could get me to want to know more about all the varied characters in the stories.
Well done, and highly recommended.
I greatly appreciated that a lot of her characters were less bourgeois than is the norm - while Marshall is an academic, she resists the urge to make her protagonists the same, which is a breath of fresh air (my impression is that maybe she got that out of her system with her first collection, which I haven’t read).
By far my favorites here were “The Ship-House,” a haunted house story, and “We Ruin the Sky” which, with its Chicago setting, 2nd person voice, and unreliable narrator, seems to have been tailor-made for me. These two can be situated more easily than most of the others here as “horror,” although horror of a more complicated formal structure than most. Of the more fabulist stories, "The Zhanell Adler Brass Spyglass" and "In the Year of Omens," two different examinations of almost identical thematic territory, were also excellent.
The Hanging Game
The titular game, a longstanding tradition among the children of a logging community, involves an aborted-at-the-last-minute hanging whose victim acts as an oracle for a local bear spirit. Our protagonist pays the blood price for her father’s antagonizing of the bears (“the things our parents leave us”). Weird as coming-of-age/menstruation through the generations.
From the very first line (“A bad thing is going to happen at the end of this story”) we’re in Kelly Link territory, and since a book called “Magic for Beginners” is referenced on the second page, I think we’re supposed to know it. This story is about a kid who wants to be a magician and a pair of witchy sisters, so we get meditations on magic, and language, and, frankly, I’m not sure I followed what Marshall was trying to accomplish with this one.
I’m the Lady of Good Times, She Said
A pair of Arizona hard luck cases, brother-in-laws, are driving out to the desert because the one caught the other cheating on his wife with a ghostly scream queen. Noirish and earthy. "The Lady of ____" is a recurring refrain.
Lessons in the Raising of Household Objects
A young girl worries about the arrival of her soon-to-be-born twin siblings. Convincingly lonesome as she becomes increasingly distrustful of her parents and fixated instead on a Campbell’s soup can as she descends into surreality.
All My Love, A Fishhook
The rocky relationships of three generations of fathers and sons in Greece and, again, the distrust of a new sibling/other family, this time also with the ocean and superstition and a mysterious statue. “This is the great fear of fatherhood. To know that love is a chancy thing.”
In the Year of Omens
A fourteen-year-old girl feels left out and alienated because her peers are all experiencing weird happenings (“omens”) and then dying. The weird as burgeoning adulthood, and sexuality, and the shift in the world after the death of a parent. Adults try to keep knowledge of these omens away from their children, unsuccessfully.
The Santa Claus Parade
One of the few stories here not concerned with family, although the protagonist is a teenager - here instead we’re focused on a boy working at a company that makes Santa Clauses in a vaguely dystopian setting, checking that all the Santa Clauses have both an anus and a beard.
The Zhanell Adler Brass Spyglass
A father gets his son the titular gift for his 12th birthday, who finds that he can use it to peer into the past. The two of them have moved across the street from their old apartment, where his mom still lives - so he charts out the family's pre-divorce life, trying to figure out what his mom did wrong to drive his father away (because it had to have been his mom's fault, right?). A thematic counterpart to "In the Year of Omens," also using adolescent lust to examine the growing divide between parents and children as the latter age into adulthood; this time also with a subtle critique of misogyny.
Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta
A story of Death personified as a frat boy, playing off horror movie cliches involving sorority girls, seguing into a low-key meditation on aging and relationships.
Crossroads and Gateways
An outlier - a Yoruba/Swahili folktale of the desert Sasha and Zamani and a trickster god (Esu) and shapeshifting and man's love for a cheetah. Not a million miles off from Valente's Orphan Tales, what with the emphasis on the meaning of stories expressed through a fairy/folk tale/mythical framework.
A woman visits her aging mother at her (haunted?) childhood home on Table Mountain in South Africa. Twins, we find out, run in the family, as does the theme of halves split in twain, and sacrifice among the women of the family, and the push to leave home struggling with the pull to stay. Like Gene Wolfe's (and, uh, Kelly Link's) best work, hints at much more going on than the actual narrative gives us, and demands to be re-read.
A Brief History of Science Fiction
Three brief vignettes of a woman at 15, 34, and 74, having encounters (of various degrees of satisfaction) with various suitors - the last of whom is an alien.
Supply Limited, Act Now
Circa 1950, a trio of boys in "Shrinky Dink, USA" order a shrink ray and go on a rampage, driven by worry over an enlisted brother and resentment over their small-town surroundings and desperation and confusion over growing up. The former fourth member of their circle, who has left them behind by maturing into womanhood, is frustrated by their antics.
We Ruin the Sky
Told in the 2nd person by an omniscient-ish narrator, in a Chicago high-rise, a quietly despondent meditation on grief and marriage and aging (and numbers) set against the backdrop of a mysterious black hole. Rather Leiberish. A masterful story.
In the Moonlight, the Skin of You
I was predisposed to dislike this one because of the title, and then I read it, and I didn't like it. Overly florid and fragmentary prose about a disappointing daughter and her hunter father (the mother is dead - again, the weird as the shift in the world after the death of a parent) and a folktale that says that if you kill a buck his wife comes to seduce you.
The Gallery of the Eliminated
Another story about a kid anxious about the birth of a new sibling, this one involve zoos and monstrous births and extinction.
The Slipway Grey
The surreal vision of a flying shark as the harbinger of death in South Africa, after a meditation learned in college goes wrong.