World Fantasy and Rhysling Award-winning Hungarian-born American writer Theodora Goss has fast established herself as one of the frontier dwellers in the border country between different traditions and genres. As Terri Windling writes in the introduction, “She is a master at evoking liminal spaces, those mysterious places and moments that lie ‘in between’.” These days, while teaching and writing in the U.S., she makes regular trips back to her original native country.This generous selection of 16 stories dates from 2002 to 2005, compiling the tales that first put her on the literary scene. The collection first appeared in paper in 2006, but this slightly modified Papaveria Press edition is its first digital publication.
“In the Forest of Forgetting” is a debut collection resurrected, then, but not a callow one. The mundane is juxtaposed against the marvelous, modern America against the great cultural traditions that fantastic literature draws its strength from, and does not always come off better, as in “Professor Berkowitz Stands on the Threshold.” The prose is deft, poised, often ironic and occasionally satirical, and the fantastical elements often appear less in the sense of a willing suspension of disbelief than in the spirit of Aristotle’s remark that is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. When the apparatus of the stories is used to point morals, however, they are serious and not simple ones: In fact, the specter of illness and mortality stalks very close to many of these tales, as in the title story.
It’s just Goss’s poise and balance that saves these earlier works from simple reiteration of the Angela Carter school. “Sleeping With Bears,” for instance, is about, well, sleeping with bears. And her foothold outside Anglo-Saxon culture yields her further resources. For anyone who knows Budapest and the post-war Hungarian experience, her details ring true.
Anyone who wants to get a flavor of her work before buying this collection can dip in to the stories online, including “Sleeping With Bears” and the superb “The Rapid Advance of Sorrow” also included here can check out the list of stories available online on her website. But no reader who enjoys this genre, or rather fusion of genres, need hesitate. And then go look at her more recent work. Recommended.