For someone who writes only short stories (when I’m not obsessing on the latest Chromebook), I’m embarrassed on how many good short story collections I tend to miss. I count among them Eugie Foster’s Mortal Clay, Stone Heart and Other Stories in Shades of Black and White. The collection of eight short stories, which was published in 2011, is the first I’ve read of her work, and it won’t be the last.
Interestingly, while authors tend to reserve their stronger work for the back of the book — and there isn’t a weak one in the bunch — in this case, my favorites were up front. The first, “The Life and Times of Penguin,” immediately caught me; a bittersweet tale from the point of view of a balloon animal (yes, really!). The second story, “Running on Two Legs” was equally well written; it concerns a woman who can understand the speech of animals, but only when she’s in medical trouble.
Not all the stories have to do with animals, either toy or real. But all are emotionally compelling, dealing with our relationship to each other and to our own pasts and futures.
Surprisingly, the only story that didn’t work for me was the title tale, possibly because I’ve never been all that fond of romances, which the short story “Mortal Clay, Stone Heart” essentially is.
But otherwise, this is an excellent collection — I heartily recommend it.