The epigraph of this collection of ten short stories is a quote by early twentieth-century American playwright, Eugene O’Neill: ‘Obsessed by a fairy tale, we spend our lives searching for a magic door and a lost kingdom of peace’. The quote is taken from O’Neill’s 1956 play, Long Day’s Journey into Night. But what does it mean? Not being familiar with the play myself, I did a bit of research and it seems the quote does indeed give a clue as to what’s in store.
As the author states in the afterword, this book has a multiplicity of meanings – the epigraph exposes us to one of the major flaws in human nature: our inclination to dream. Dreaming can be a powerful and dangerous ability and the effect it can have on both us and other people can be extraordinary and unexpected. Through this overall theme, the author has aimed to incorporate into the stories, civil rights folklore and commentary on the black American condition, young adulthood, magical realism and traditional fairy tales. The author states that they wanted to provide a fresh, engaging and thought-provoking read; I think they have achieved this extremely well.
The stories are engaging and interesting, and although they follow a common thread, each has its own unique narrative and a set of believable and well-described – although not always likeable – characters. Each is told from the perspective of its own protagonist: some of whom are dreamers, like Alabama-born Davis, in The Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels…; some of whom, such as Real Monsters’ Lynn, who wishes those around her would open their eyes, are straight-talking realists; and one just happens to be a cat.
The brilliantly suspenseful Hatari Forest kept me guessing about where it was going right until the end; Real Monsters requires suspension of belief for a short time; and the poignant For the Love of… ended too soon for my liking. Ultimately they are all a study of the human condition – our faults and foibles, how they affect our behaviour and our decisions and the impact this has on others. Each story speaks to the reader’s ‘inner dreamer’: where the story ends, the imagination has to take over. I did find myself wondering about the fate of some of the characters after the story itself had ended, which is what should happen with a well-crafted short story. I should also mention here that each tale has its own character illustration at the outset, by artist Donahue Johnson, which brings them to life and lends a nice feel to the book.
As was to be expected, I enjoyed some more than others. I found the futuristic Gridlock difficult to put down and my personal favourite, the aforementioned Real Monsters, offers an interesting narrative on the perceived ignorance of the human race about an intriguing and, (who knows?) perhaps quite real, danger.
A Magic Door, A Lost Kingdom of Peace didn’t disappoint; from both the point of view of the author conveying the message they intended, and the writing itself. It’s engaging and easy to digest. I advise you to open your own magic door and give this book a go.
Length: 161 pages
Buy the book here