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Antediluvian Tales
Poppy Z. Brite
Subterranean Press, 116 pages

Antediluvian Tales
Poppy Z. Brite
Poppy Z. Brite was born in New Orleans in 1967. She sold her first story at 18, "Optional Music for Voice and Piano," to The Horror Show. In 1991, Dell bought Lost Souls, her first novel, as a paperback original. Later they decided to make it the first hardcover in the Abyss horror line. By the time her 3rd novel, Exquisite Corpses, found homes with Simon & Schuster in the US and Orion in the UK, Courtney Love contacted her to write her biography. Courtney Love: The Real Story was published by Simon & Schuster (US) and Orion (UK) in 1996. She currectly lives with her husband in an old house in Uptown New Orleans.

Poppy Z. Brite Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jakob Schmidt

This small book collects the previously uncollected short fiction by Poppy Z. Brite written before Hurricane Katrina (and the subsequent failure of the American government to deal with the catastrophe). Therefore, the book is quite slim; as Brite points out in her foreword, "I couldn't see pairing stories I'd written before the flood with those I'd written after (). Whatever else they may be, the stories in this little collection now seem almost impossibly innocent to me."

I'm not sure if I would use the word "innocent," but what's certainly striking about the stories in Antediluvian Tales is that they are about everyday life events, small epiphanies, sometimes vaguely magical, more often quite mundane. They're all set in and around New Orleans, and most of them are about the Stubbs family, which features heavily in her recent work. There's no need to be familiar with any of her "Stubb's fiction," however, to enjoy these stories, since none of them is dependent on any kind of meta-plot. The main appeal of the stories collected here isn't in the plot, anyway, but in the snapshot, point-on depiction of characters and their idiosyncrasies. Antediluvian Tales is a book of small thresholds, about how life may change in very small, but irrevocable ways. Several of these stories deal with the quiet ending of partnerships; "Wound Man and Horned Melon go to Hell" does so in a nearly essayist way. On the more positive side, all of the stories are about food and the complex pleasures derived from it.

If you're more familiar with Brite's Horror writing (like I am), the two longer pieces of the collection, "Crown of Thornes" and "The Devil of Delery Street" will probably feel familiar. The first is about a beautifully dangerous surfacing of magic that captures coroner Dr. Brite and his boyfriend while investigating in a lonely spot near New Orleans. The other one deals with adolescent feelings of alienation, veiled very thinly by a ghost metaphor. None of these are in any way "horror"; what they do is capture the feeling of the omnipresence of a certain kind of magic, of strange, meaningful and highly sensual small events.

If all of this sounds rather melancholic, it should be pointed out that none of these stories lacks a sense of humour, which comes to the forefront especially in shorter pieces, like "Four Flies and a Swatter" or "Henry Goes Shopping."

The book closes with an essay written after Katrina that shares the attention to detail and magical moments that marks the preceding stories. However, it also illustrates how a complex aesthetic experience of the world can suddenly be shattered by a catastrophe like Katrina.

All in all, I had been hoping for something a little more impressive when I started reading this collection. This is sensual and stylistically brilliant storytelling that draws a strong connection between the magical and the mundane, but the stories themselves are deliberately small-scale. It feels very much like something in between, and I guess that you can get much more out of it by reading it in context with Brite's other recent work. As a stand-alone, it is highly readable, but it still left me vaguely dissatisfied.

Copyright © 2007 by Jakob Schmidt

Jakob is part of the editorial team of the German magazine Pandora. That's in his spare time, which luckily still makes up the bulk of his days.

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