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The Rose in Twelve Petals and other Stories
Theodora Goss
Small Beer Press, 60 pages

The Rose in Twelve Petals and other Stories
Theodora Goss
Theodora Goss' stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies such as Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Polyphony, Alchemy, Fantastic Metropolis, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. Her story "The Rose in Twelve Petals," a Nebula nominee, was reprinted in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror.

After completing a J.D. at Harvard Law School, she worked for several years at law firms in New York and Boston. She returned to school to complete an M.A. in English literature at Boston University, where she is currently working on her Ph.D. Theodora Goss was born in Hungary, and lived in Italy and Belgium before her family moved to the United States. She lives in Boston with her husband Kendrick, a scientist and artist, and their daughter, Ophelia, in an apartment filled with books and cats.

Theodora Goss Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Rose in Twelve Petals and other Stories

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

This lovely little chapbook with intricate artwork by Charles Vess gives readers pretty much everything Theodora Goss has published so far since her appearance in print a few years back. The poems -- "The Changeling," "That Year," and "Bears" -- are new; the short story "Her Mother's Ghosts" is the only previously unpublished story here -- but unless you're a regular reader of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, you probably haven't seen more than a couple of the pieces reprinted here.

Goss's stories and poems are a haunting mix of cobwebby fairy tale elegance and tough-as-concrete contemporary sensibility. The mood and setting frequently evoke turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th century) eastern Europe, all skinny Gothic arches and Art Nouveau curliqueues, baroque music and staticky radios, Goethe and Faust, and the occasional dish of paprikas.

The title piece is the most accessible, and the best known of the works contained here. A retelling of the "Sleeping Beauty" story, "The Rose in Twelve Petals," uses a present tense narrator and multiple points of view -- each "petal" a tiny snapshot of individual story -- to relate the tale of the princess doomed by an evil witch's curse. We begin with the "evil" witch Madeleine, the king's discarded lover, bent upon revenge. Then, gracefully, Goss exhibits the other characters, one by one: the king's naïve bride, an ill-fated princess from a foreign land; the depressed court magician whose earnings go to help his ailing sister; the king's termagant mother, a gardener, even the spinning wheel itself join the tale, each one a petal to make up this chilly, expertly crafted blossom of a story.

"The Rapid Advance of Sorrow" is tone poem as much as story, a muted appeal from a doomed narrator whose careless surrender of innocence heralds a much greater loss. "Professor Berkowitz Stands on the Threshold" gives us a learned man who doesn't really know anything, one who fears the unknown more than he hates his own sterile life.

"Lily, With Clouds" likewise focuses on a character who refuses to accept the existence of anything beyond what she knows: a woman who clings to her own rigid, mundane life rather than accept the existence of wonder, even when it's thrown in her face. Similar resonances between the familiar and the magical occur in "Her Mother's Ghosts," as a young woman drifts between two worlds: one bland reality, the other composed of dark, dreamlike snippets of another woman's past.

Goss's work is sure to remind you of Kelly Link's slipstream stories. The frequent use of present tense, the taut, episodic structure, and a singular attention to tiny details, all combine to create evocative, moody fiction. At this stage in her career, Goss's writing depends heavily on themes of loss and reflection, on pristine moments in memory rather than the less crisply observed present. Throughout this collection, one always the sense of reading something deftly "constructed," an elegance achieved by writing and rewriting until the words and images merge and flow perfectly.

Copyright © 2005 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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