Title: Night Beast
Writer: Ruth Joffre
Publishing House: Grove Atlantic
Date of Publication: 08 May 2018
Rating: 3 stars
‘’Εven if you do reject your timer, it’s going to count down anyway.’’
This collection has long been on my list but life and other books got in the way. After having read Her Body and Other Parties, I thought Night Beast would be a nice choice to pair it with. Hidden behind a beautiful front cover that combines Belle Epoque style and contemporary graphic novel art, these stories deal with grief, loss, love and sexual identity. Mainly set in the Midwest, it is not a light read but an ambitious project focusing on difficult themes like child abuse, the exploitation of the weakest, the inability to distinguish between our wishes and perceptions and the world around us. However, Night Beast was less interesting than its title. These are the best moments, in my opinion:
Nitrate Nocturnes: A timer that counts the years, the days, the seconds until someone finds the one soulmate in a society of the future. A future that has everything programmed, down to the day you’ll die…
Go West, and Grow Up: A woman and her teenage daughter escape from an abusive, alcoholic husband. In an old car, they are trying to reach Oregon with no possessions and no defense. This story was so hard to read, every page was like a punch in the face.
‘’He loved to see the others fail.’’
General, Minister, Horse, Cannon: A Chinese boy, living in the USA, wants to become an Emperor. This is a tender, heartfelt story that starts as a comedy and becomes a hymn to friendship, diversity and the dream of a better life.
I’m Not Asking: Two women are trying to cope with the loss of their unborn child through an artificial world of make-believe, where the sun never sets. A sad but exceptional story in which the writing reminded me of Jeanette Winterson.
There are a few stories that made absolutely no sense at all, especially in relation to the rest of the stories in the collection. Many just ended abruptly. I am all for open-ended stories but this was an example of choppy, inspired writing. They are disjointed, unclear and some of them presented a rather distasteful version of sexuality. At times, I felt there was too much emphasis on sex, just for the sake of it, without any symbolism or substance. This was the major difference between Night Beast and Her Body and Other Parties. The really positive thing is that Joffre shows real potential in the writing and the style. My issue with this collection is mainly derived from the fact that there are so many excellent examples of Magical Realism and Gender Studies in recent publications and one needs to excel in order to surprise. The emphasis on queer relationships is always fascinating and provides an endless source of themes, but dynamics need to be cohesive and serve a purpose. I didn’t see this in the majority of the stories. I couldn’t connect with them, I didn’t feel any magic. With the exception of a few examples of extraordinary writing, this is a collection I won’t remember after a while…
Many thanks to Grove Atlantic, NetGalley, and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.