What I’ve Been Reading: At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees, by Kij Johnson

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at the mouth of the river of bees, by kij johnsonJohnson is skilled in the art of the weird tale, as she demonstrates in this collection of stories spanning just a few pages and 50-plus pages. Even the least-engaging stories here are still examples of sterling writing and fine imagining. But the most effective stories? Good god.

When Johnson writes about animals, especially pets, she wields an exceptionally sharp and affecting narrative scalpel. The title story, about a woman and her elderly, dying dog having their roadtrip waylaid by a swarm of bees big enough to be called a “river,” is dangerously powerful if you’ve got pets, especially pets close to the end of their lives. It’s a sweet, loving, magical story. By the end of it, I literally had to fight back tears so as not to be crying in the middle of a food court on my lunch break from work. It’s that good.

The other standout story, “Ponies,” examines peer pressure among pre-teen girls, and what we’re willing to renounce and ruin in order to appear grown up and to fit in. “Ponies” isn’t a quarter as sweet as “… River of Bees,” but it’s just as effective. It reads to me like a Josh Simmons comic, in its bleakness and horror and sadness. And that’s saying something.

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