Brief Thoughts on Some Fables

During last week’s Bout of Books, I read two books that you might call fables. The Magician’s Elephant is an extended middle grade fable, while Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day puts a contemporary, speculative twist on the fable form.

  • The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
    • Rating: ★★★½
    • Goodreads | Indiebound | Chapters | Amazon 
    • Kate @ Bookish Illuminations review | NY Times review
    • My first time reading something by Kate DiCamillo
    • A cozy tale, perfect for a winter’s night with a big mug of hot chocolate. I took comfort in the slow, quiet story with its pleasant characters. 
      • I liked how the police officer Leo Matienne, down on the sidewalk, would talk to Peter up in his apartment and call him “little cuckoo bird  of the attic world” (79).
    • DiCamillo writes gentle yet evocative prose. She creates a charming setting of an Eastern European town long ago. I can’t imagine the tale in any different setting.
    • In the author description, DiCamillo shares that she “wanted, needed, longed to tell a story of love and magic”. She succeeds in this task.
    • The handful of full-page illustrations by Yoko Tanaka suit the story well.
    • One dark moment when the elephant decides she wants to die startled me.
    • This is not a tale for everyone – certainly not if you don’t like ‘novel-length fables’, as one Goodreads review describes it, but it delighted me. Admittedly, even for me this was a mood book. I tried it previously and couldn’t get into it. I’m not sure what a 10 year old would make of this story (too dull?). While not particularly exciting, and not particularly deep, you may find this a pleasant little tale.
  • Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
    • Rating: ★★★
    • Goodreads | Indiebound | Chapters | Amazon
    • From the publisher: “This collection of wry and witty, dark and perilous contemporary fables and tales is populated by people – and monsters and aliens and animals and inanimate objects – motivated by and grappling with the fears and desires that unite us all.”
    • A brief and easy read containing 40 small tales (averaging perhaps four pages), it’s hard not to recommend this even though many of the stories fell flat for me. You’ll probably find a few tales to adore and even if you don’t, reading the entire book won’t have taken much of your time.
    • The first tale – “The Book” – convinced me to sign this out from the library. It’s my favourite in the collection.
      • Other stories I really liked: “The Tunnel”, “Bigfoot”, “The Little Girl and the Balloon”, and “The Poet”
      • A few stories aren’t suited to my tastes, such as “The Man and the Moose” and “The Octopus”. I suppose I don’t like animals that fit in just as normal humans/talking animals.
    • I enjoy the atmosphere and style (dreamy, fog induced) of all the stories, if not the substance. I like the absence of names and succinct, matter-of-fact prose. I like the open ended-ness of most of the tales. I can barely tolerate open endings in long-form fiction, but I love it in short-form.  Loory’s stories are bare bones fables, containing just enough to fire your imagination. I can fill in the gaps however I like and if I can’t fill them in to my satisfaction, then I can take comfort in imagining that the author knew just what was happening in their tale even if the reader can’t figure it out. These are just the kind of stories you might expect from a collection with this title. Though they do not explicitly interconnect, their themes and moods fit well beside each other.
    • All that being said, some of the stories don’t manage to pull off what the most successful do. The sparseness doesn’t satisfy; the oddness feels a bit too weird; my imagination needs a few more tidbits to be satisfied.
    • Why three stars? I liked this collection, some stories more than others, and the writing is my style, but the tales themselves didn’t really click any deeper for me. Probably a good read if it intrigues you at all, but nothing deeply memorable for me.

Once there was a man who was afraid of his shadow.
Then he met it.
Now he glows in the dark. (58)