Strange Tales of Secret Lives: Flash fiction from VanderMeer

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Jeff Vandermeer Strange Tales of Secret LivesStrange Tales of Secret Lives by Jeff VanderMeer

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Strange Tales of Secret Lives and this book certainly did surprise. Jeff VanderMeer explains the origins of Secret Lives in the introduction: this is a collection of various short stories of (hopefully) fictional what-ifs of real people: a researcher is really a king, a pharmacist plans to live the double-life of a detective, etc.

I’m not a fan of flash fiction and most of the stories here definitely fall under that category yet VanderMeer manages to write it with such imagination and gusto that it becomes palatable, even when reading it all in one sitting. What VanderMeer does differently is that he doesn’t stick to a formula even if the premise of the collection seems to require it. He mixes things up, changes the pattern, inter-relates consecutive stories, and adds weird but relevant images to each piece. The order of the stories isn’t arbitrary — there is a distinct rhythm and purpose to the sequence.
I liked the latter part of the book best — where some of the meatier stories are.

Overall, Secret Lives is an interesting novelty book at best. Its strength is clearly its concept (where else would you buy a book compiling secret lives?) and while the writing is above average, it doesn’t strike me as a must-have unless you happen to personally know one of the people mentioned in the book. Still, as far as originality and imagination goes, Secret Lives proves that Jeff VanderMeer still has his edge.

Strange Tales of Secret Lives — (2008)  Publisher: In this new collection by World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer, the secret lives of librarians, doctors, lawyers, university students, bank tellers, sex shop clerks and dozens of others are revealed for the first time. Ordered by profession, these short-short stories range from the hilarious to the somber, the absurd to the revelatory. Using real people as the springboard, VanderMeer has created a rich blend of the factual and the imaginary in which everyone gets the secret life they deserve. A luminous little bookmeant for dipping into one secret life at a time.

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CHARLES TAN, one of our guest reviewers, is the owner of the blogs Bibliophile Stalker and Comic Quest. He also edits Philippine Speculative Fiction. You can read his fiction in that publication and in The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories. Charles has conducted interviews for The Nebula Awards and The Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as for online magazines such as SF Crowsnest and SFScope. He is a regular contributor to sites like SFF Audio and Comics Village.

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