Recently, Silvia Moreno-Garcia announced that she would have a short story in a new Amazon Original Stories collection called Trespass. I decided to get the whole collection – not only would I get to enjoy one of my favorite authors, I would also get to discover some new ones. I opted for the audiobook version, though Trespass is also available as an ebook. It’s free for Prime members regardless of the format you choose.
Take a walk on the wild side
When nature gets up close and personal, it isn’t always pretty. A fallen tree sparks a poisonous feud between neighbors. A child searches the darkness for the gleam of a tiger’s teeth. A woman holds off a colony of oddly relentless prairie dogs. In unsettling stories that range from horror to magical realism, award-winning authors lay bare the secrets hidden in the land.
The Tiger Came to the Mountains by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The first story in Trespass is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Tiger Came to the Mountains. Set in Mexico in 1917, it follows two siblings who must hide out in a cave to stay safe from the violence of revolution. But when Machorra’s brother Melchor falls ill, she must protect him from the danger lurking in the forest.
Of the six stories included in Trespass, I found this one to be the best. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of my favorite authors, and The Tiger Came to the Mountains, though short, captures what I love about her writing. Immediately, she immerses you in the setting and time. The characters feel viscerally real, and in just 50 minutes, you care about them. The repeated phrase “H is for Hippo, L is for Lion, T is for Tiger” reminds you how young they are, even if Machorra is now 13. She is a strong young woman while her brother Melchor is imaginative and kind. This story builds growing tension as you wonder what, if anything, could be outside the cave… or if Melchor’s fever has him seeing things. When Machorra must face a seemingly otherworldly beast, it keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Wildlife by Jeff VanderMeer
Sam has escaped a violent past, leaving behind a husband as she hides in the house that used to belong to her father. But her neighbors are strange and secretive, and beyond the ravine behind her home lurk strange creatures… and possibly very real danger.
Wildlife starts well, feeling like it would turn into a story both haunting and terrifying. It also builds up some mystery surrounding Sam’s past and what violence she committed. Over the course of a few months, she gets situated in her new home, but never quite feels settled. Her feud with her neighbor adds to the unease, while her animal cameras maintain a sense of wildness and unpredictability. However, as the story moved forward, I found myself looking forward to its end. I must confess, though, that the ending left me rather perplexed. Perhaps if I’d understood it better the payoff would have been greater.
The Backbone of the World by Stephen Graham Jones
Millie is a Native American woman living in Montana – alone now, since her husband committed a horrible crime and is in jail. Her new tenant, named Frog, is an odd woman. Millie is also dealing with a prairie dog infestation. But things grow stranger and Millie wonders what – and who – is actually living on her land.
The Backbone of the World may be the strangest story in the Trespass collection. It balances two main plot points: Millie’s tenant Frog is an woman with no past and a befuddling way of interacting. Meanwhile, Millie is working on getting rid of all the prairie dogs that have invaded her land, trying one method after another to no avail. But the situations with Frog and the prairie dogs start to converge as time goes on. By the end, the story has moved away from where I’d thought it was heading, instead moving into some surprising, rather science fiction, directions.
Stag by Karen Russell
Stan is a middle-aged man broken by dark events in his past. He crashes a “divorce party” with a woman he barely knows, and observes the peculiar strangers rejoicing in the end of a marriage. A tortoise named Greeley – the rescued pet of the divorcing couple – captures his particular attention as the night wears on.
After the previous three stories, Stag stands out for taking a completely different direction. Although it is less nature-y than the others, and condensed to only a single night, I actually ended up liking it rather well. Stan is an interloper at a divorce party, offering his stranger’s perspective on the people around, the absurdity of the whole party, and the presence of a ring-bearing tortoise. It’s an introspective, somewhat psychological story that eventually reveals a heartbreaking event in Stan’s past.
A Righteous Man by Tochi Onyebuchi
Nathanial is a missionary in nineteenth-century Africa, living with a group of people he intends to educate and convert. Through a series of letters written to his wife in Britain, we observe how Nathanial connects with his new home and people, falls ill, and begins to see things that make him question his faith.
Along with The Tiger Came to the Mountains, Tochi Onyebuchi’s A Righteous Man was my other favorite story in Trespass. It’s told entirely in letters that Nathanial – a missionary – sends to his wife Theresa. He starts off bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to get to know these people in Africa (it’s unclear exactly where, but hyenas are around) and teach them about his religion. He falls in love with the nature there and, after some acclimation, seems to become quite content in this village. However, after getting gravely ill and suffering fever, Nathanial sees some impossible things involving shape-shifting hyenas. Is he losing his mind? Is his losing faith a fair trade-off for his presence there? Did Theresa ever respond to any of his letters? This story has a touch of magical realism and I was completely immersed in Nathanial’s character. I will definitely read more from Tochi Onyebuchi in the near future!
Bloody Summer by Carmen Maria Machado
Told like a nonfiction academic paper, the final story in Trespass – Bloody Summer – describes a small Pennsylvania town called Never-Again, in which tigers seem to hide in the shadows, and kids’ hand-games reflect this obsession. One day in the early 1990s, the tigers went free, many adults died, and all the children disappeared. What really happened?
The final story in Trespass, Bloody Summer reads like a nonfiction piece, like an academic’s scholarly publication. The narrator first describes the history of the town of Never-Again, suggesting how tigers could have ended up in Pennsylvania. Then we learn about a horrific and perplexing event one summer in the early 1990s, one that led to many deaths and disappearances. From there we learn about the tiger-related hand-games kids of the area played – which is a tad spooky. Finally, an interview with a man who’d grown up there sheds light on what may have really happened. It’s an odd but thought-provoking story, and probably in the top half of the ones shared here.
Trespass is a mixed bag of stories, ranging in genre and style. But all are united by the concept of someone trespassing – whether on a party, on a community of people, or on land that should still belong to animals. The stories are thoughtful and generally haunting, and most could work as full-length works. Apart from Silvia Moreno-Garcia, all the authors were new to me, and I look forward to reading more from them.
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