"... a thing in a forest"
“There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest.” Thus begins A.S. Byatt’s fairy tale about war.
Little Black Book of Stories collects five of A.S. Byatt’s complex, riveting fictions. Each one is marvelous in its singular way, together making up one of my favorite story collections. Ali Smith writes a review in the Guardian that gives it justice.
“The Thing in the Forest” uses the trope of vulnerable, motherless fairy tale children. Byatt’s little girls are evacuees from London during the Blitz of WWII. One child is fair and giddy, the other dark and intense. They are transformed by their forest adventure, in the pitiless way that war changes those who endure it. Byatt writes, “The corner of the blanket that covered the unthinkable had been turned back.”
"A Stone Woman” tells of grief as a literal, physical transformation. A beloved mother dies, and her middle-aged daughter struggles with emotion so unbearable it turns gangrenous. The poisoned section of gut can be surgically removed, but unusual scar tissue grows over the wound.
Read this story for lyrical prose that feels excruciating yet comforting, as Byatt explores how one woman both transcends and becomes loss and grief.
“Raw Material” is presented realistically – or is it? The ending is so shocking, so unexpected that the reader wonders. This is the best story I’ve ever read on the perils, loneliness, and joy of being an obscure writer.