Sunday, September 13, 2009

Moonlight and Vines by Charles de Lint

Familiar to Charles de Lint's ever-growing audience as the setting of the novels Moonheart, Forests of the Heart, The Onion Girl, and many others, Newford is the quintessential North American city, tough and streetwise on the surface and rich with hidden magic for those who can see.

In the World Fantasy Award-winning Moonlight and Vines, de Lint returns to this extraordinary city for another volume of stories set there, featuring the intertwined lives of many characters from the novels. Here is enchantment under a streetlamp: the landscape of our lives as only Charles de Lint can show it
This is my second year of participating in RIP, but it is the first year when I have made an effort to read any short stories and thus participate in the Short Story Peril.

I have previously read a few bits and pieces by Charles de Lint, but because my library doesn't have all the books in the series, it is a bit here and there. Even with that limitation, I recognised many of the characters who play recurring roles throughout many of the short stories in this book.

Normally if I am writing a review of a short story collection I will talk a little bit about each story, and I will still do that in this post, but first of all I just wanted to speak more generally about Charles de Lint's writing, and the world that he has created in Newford.

Over the last couple of years one of the stronger sub genres around has been urban fantasy. Series like Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld series, or Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson series come to mind for example. They are novels set in cities or larger towns where just beneath a seemingly ordinary exterior there are underground groups of vampires or werewolves, witches or warlocks or other paranormal creatures.

Reading through this collection made me ponder on how the Newford that Charles de lint has created is almost an extension of the idea of urban fantasy, but where the emphasis is on the Urban and not on the Fantasy aspects like it is in some series. The Newford of his books is one where you will find yourself spending time with strippers, with hobos and with people who find themselves living on the edges of our society. That doesn't mean to say that there isn't fantasy, because there is, quite often recurring characters like the Crowgirls, but it is a more dangerous, less sanitised urban fantasy than we get in some UF books.

The other thing that de Lint excels in is writing damaged characters. Personally I think that everyone is damaged to some degree - all of us feel inadequate or lonely at some point or another. Whilst many of the characters are very damaged and have ended up in far worse places than I could ever imagine ending up, there were several passages which I identified with very strongly. For example, in the short story Birds, when I was reading this section, I thought 'that's me. That's how I feel sometimes!'

I know about pain. I know about loneliness. Talking with Teresa, I realize that these are the first real conversations I've had with someone else in years.

I don't want to make it sound as though I don't have any friends, that I never talk to anyone - but sometimes it feels like that all the same. I always seem to be standing on the outside of a friendship, of conversations, never really engaged. Even last night, before I found Teresa sleeping in the doorway. I was out withe a bunch of people. I was in the middle of any number of conversations and camaraderie. But I still went home alone. I listened to what was going on around me. I smiled some, laughed some, added a sentence here, another there, but it wasn't really me that was partaking of the company. The real me was one step removed, watching it happen. Like it seems I always am. Everybody I know seems to inhabit one landscape that they all share while I'm the only person standing in the landscape that's inside of me.
One thing that does come through strongly in de Lint's writing is his obvious social conscience and from his writing it would appear that he obviously has a heart for the marginalised in society as demonstrated in the short story The Invisibles:

Invisible. It comes to me, then. The world's full of invisible people and our not seeing them's got nothing to do with magic. The homeless.Winos. Hookers. Junkies. And not only on the street. The housewife. The businessman's secretary. Visible only when they're needed for something. The man with AIDS. Famine victims. People displaced by wars or natural disasters. The list is endless, all these people we don't see because we don't want to see them. All these people we don't see because we're too busy paying attention to ourselves. I've felt it myself, my lack of self-confidence and how it translates into my behaviour can have people look right through me. Standing in a store, waiting to be served. Sitting in the corner of a couch at a party and I might as well be a pillow.

Here is a very short summary of the stories in this collection:

Saskia - a mysterious woman catches the attention of a writer and he finds himself trying to find out everything he can about her, using the Wordwood which is a huge database on the net, which appears to be writing itself. I loved the idea of Wordwood! I am sure I could spend hours on it.

In the Soul of a Woman - Nita is a stripper who is trying to do what she can do to make ends meet whilst still maintaining her visitation rights. She meets Imogen who is a vampire with a death wish.

The Big Sky - when a man returns home and finds a young woman in his house, he has no idea how much his life has changed. When he won't accept her help, he needs to find his own way, but it will mean a complete change of attitude.

Birds - When Katja finds a young girl asleep in a doorway she wants to look after her. The young girl is looking for one thing, just one specific thing that will enable her to find peace.

Passing - I had actually read this short story before but I don't know exactly where from. Lucy is a columnist with a Newford newspaper, and finds herself writing pieces about the gay community. Whilst she isn't gay, she finds herself attracted to Nina, a married woman who is in the process of splitting up with her husband. Nina asks Lucy to recover one item from her flat, a sword. What Lucy doesn't know is what Nina needs to have happen next.
Held Safe by Moonlight and Vines - Lilly likes to spend time in the local cemetery looking for ghosts. Her friend, local tough guy Alex is less than thrilled with the fact that she places herself in danger, but it isn't until they can find the courage to be honest with each other that they can find what they are looking for.

In the Pines - the main character in this book is connected to the main character in The Big Sky, something that de Lint does quite skillfully on several occasions through this collection. Darlene is a struggling country singer who does Dolly Parton covers as well. She is performing as Dolly when she sees her aunt in the audience, her aunt who has been dead for many years. The events portrayed cause Darlene to reevaluate her life and dreams.

Shining Nowhere but in the Dark - when Jenny gives a young girl some spare change she doesn't realise that she is making friends with the Fates. They are interested in her because she doesn't dream, always taking care to block out her history.
If I Close My Eyes Forever - Kira is a finder of lost things, not a private detective, so she is surprised when she is asked to find a woman. The person who is searching for her is her former lover and wants something back off of her. What Kira doesn't know about is the hidden lifestyle that is going to be revealed to her during the course of her search.

Heartfires - Some old spirits masquerading as hobos find an old room and spend time remembering who they are and writing their stories.

The Invisibles - When Andrew is in a diner with a friend he realises that he can see a woman that no one else can see and he is intrigued.

Seven for a Secret - A group of hobos are sharing their stories when one of them reveals a huge and shocking secret from the past and which led him to his current place in life.

Crow Girls - The Crow Girls, and the use of crows as symbols, are used throughout many of these short stories. In this one, Jilly's friend Heather's marriage has just broken up and now she has to work out what it is that she wants to do to support her children and herself. Along the way she also needs to rediscover the magic that can be found in simple things.

Wild Horses - A young woman is searching for her brother who went missing a couple of years previously when she approaches Cassie for a reading. It is not the normal type of reading that Cassie does, but her special cards give her a place to start searching. Hopefully there is a chance for the truth to be revealed, and for some kind of peace reached before it was too late. In some ways this was a very bleak story, but it was one of my favourites.
In the Land of the Unforgiven - When you know that horrendous crimes are being committed but that the law can't seem to touch the offender, you know that you shouldn't take matters into your own hands. When Cray does just that, he is prepared to do the time, but he finds that he has a different kind of life sentence. This is a short but powerful story.

My Life as a Bird - A struggling cartoonist stumbles into a fairy tale. A grumpy, unlikeable, unclean dwarf comes into her life when she gives him some spare change, and now he must give her something in return.

China Doll - When a former hitman and a social campaigner go up against a triad, they find that they can still make a difference even after they are dead.

In the Quiet After Midnight - When a group of friends are sitting around chatting about the strangest thing that has ever happened to them, Angela's story gives one of her friend the courage to try to change her life.

The Pennymen - when Eliza thinks she sees a penny on the ground she attempts to pick it up, but she finds that it is a pennyman instead. It looks like a penny but it has a face and arms and legs. When she tells her friend, she doesn't realise the strain it will place on their friendship as Sarah is petrified that it means that she will have to go through another person dealing with mental illness, just like her mother.

Twa Corbies - an elderly woman lives alone and can't sleep. She is looking down on the street when she sees Sophie find a man's body. What she doesn't know is that the man's ghost tells Sophie about his former life as a knight.

The Fields Beyond the Fields - the main characters in this story are the same ones from the first novel, thus bringing a sense of completion to the collection. Christy writes about fairy tales and legends, but he isn't all that open to the world of magic. As he searches for the magic, maybe old talents can be found as well.

All in all this was an entertaining collection. As much as I enjoy de Lint's world and his writing it is not always easy to read them. I also can't help but wonder how many of these characters would be familiar to me if I had read all of the previous books in this series, instead of just having to make do with parts of the series.

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Stainless Steel Droppings


  1. I liked the one Newford book I read, The Onion Girl. I have one of the short story collections too, but I'm not a huge short story fan so I've been putting it off. The stories sound good, though, and I like the idea of focusing on the urban instead of the fantasy. I'll have to pull the short story book out and try it.

  2. I read this collection a few years ago, and really enjoyed the stories. Some of them really resonate, don't they?

  3. I'm very slowly reading my way through de Lint's Newford books at the moment. I haven't got as far as Moonlight and Vines yet, but I've been very impressed by what I've read so far - de Lint can be very powerful. The villain in Memory and Dream really creeped me out.

    I'm not really a short story reader, but I did really like Dreams Underfoot and it's a short story collection I'm up to next - The Ivory and the Horn. I'm looking forward to it, but don't know when I'll get to it.

    I don't know if you read ebooks, but Fictionwise has a good selection of de Lint available. It's where I've been getting mine. Sadly though, it doesn't include everything including Moonlight and Vines. I'll have to try to library when I get to the missing ones.

  4. I've heard a lot about de Lint and that some of his books are amazing pieces of literature. I like how you describe the elements that he incorporates into his stories and think that although he may write a bit darkly it would make for very interesting reading. I will have to do some research on his books and try something. I don't think I will be disappointed.

  5. I'm glad you enjoyed this! I know what you mean about feeling perhaps out of the loop regarding characters who may have appeared in other places. I've read nearly all that de Lint has published, and because memories fade of books read years ago, sometimes I feel that way, too. The upside is that rereading offers little bonus treats when characters reappear from things I've read more recently, but maybe didn't catch the connection to, the first time I read it. If that makes any sense!

  6. not my kind of style but it sounds like my husbands.