Ellen Datlow &
Terri Windling, editors,
Salon Fantastique
(Thunder's Mouth, 2006)

If, like me, you studied French literature in college, you will have at least heard of the literary salons of the 18th and 19th centuries, where writers, philosophers, artists, nobles and others gathered for intellectual discourse. If your education in this matter is lacking, never fear: Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling take the time to explain in their introduction to Salon Fantastique why they chose that model for their latest anthology.

The 15 stories here are not quite fantasy and not quite mainstream. Instead, they are semi-literary tales with quite a bit more than a soupçon of the fantastic. Unlike Datlow and Windling's previous anthologies (many of which have been reviewed here at Rambles.NET) there is no overarching theme; the only requirement is that each story contain some element of the fantastic.

The literary discourse begins with Delia Sherman's "La Fée Verte," a story that fittingly takes place in Paris around the time of the Franco-Prussian War. La Fée Verte refers both to a character and absinthe, a green liquor inextricably linked with the artists of 19th-century Paris.

Richard Bowes moves us from France to present day New York City with "Dust Devil on a Quiet Street," in which a writer reflects upon his past. "To Measure the Earth" takes us a bit upstate and back again to the late 19th century where a surveyor runs into ghosts and Indian legends.

In Catherynne M. Valente's haunting "A Grey & Soundless Tide," a silkie, hiding her secret anguish, begs to have her skin taken from her, barring her from the sea.

The enchanting "Concealment Shoes" by Marly Youmans tells what happens when a modern Southern family moves into an old New England house and exploring children innocently remove the Yankee home-protection charm. Christopher Barzak's "The Guardian of the Egg" is a young woman who goes from unpopular model student to celebrity when a tree sprouts from the top of her head.

The action of Lavie Tidhar's disquieting "My Travels with Al-Qaeda," jumps back and forth in time, showing a man and his girlfriend who seem to be always near terrorist strikes.

With "Chandail," Peter S. Beagle moves out of our world altogether to tell the story of a woman who struggles to save the life of a being of myth. Greer Gilman's "Down the Wall" appears to take place in a post-apocalyptic world that could be ours or could be somewhere else entirely, while Paul Di Filippo's "Femaville 29" definitely takes place in our own world after a tsunami strikes an unnamed East Coast city. Once again, the children are the heroes.

Next, a soldier's life flashes before his eyes in Gregory Maguire's "Nottamun Town," while the husband in Gavin J. Grant's "Yours, Etc." tries to protect his wife from the ghosts to whom she dutifully writes.

In David Prill's "The Mask of '67," the folk of a small town are shocked when the local girl who made good returns, while small-town life of another sort is the focus of Jeffrey Ford's "The Night Whiskey." Finally, Lucius Shepard's "The Lepidopterist" tells the story of a boy who runs afoul of a man with big ambitions and some very odd butterflies.

Salon Fantastique is furnished as richly with stories as the original salons were with carefully chosen artwork or guests. As with any collection, each individual reader will find stories that appeal more than others, but it's well worth coming to the Salon and joining the conversation.

by Laurie Thayer
2 December 2006

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