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Monday, April 18, 2011

On the Banks of the River of Heaven--Richard Parks

On the Banks of the River of Heaven is, in one word, lovely.  It is a collection of short stories, some related by time, place, and character, others unique in all three.  Each story is a gem, a small jewel of Scheherezade-like story telling--compelling, fascinating, alive.

The title story "On the Banks of the River of Heaven" concerns the actions of the otter that lives in the river of heaven and how otter, upon receiving a special blessing from the cowherd/fisherman who lives on one of the banks, bestows upon this hard-working soul his own benediction.  He does this by fooling with the powers that be and showing them what really is rather than what they thought was.


In the second story, "The Finer Points of Destruction," Kali Ma manifests inside our heroes television set and reports that she, along with another 10 avatars, is searching for her husband, Shiva.  She intents to manifest (and thus destroy some object) until her husband is found.  And so the luckless apartment owner goes out in search of Shiva in order to preserve his meager possessions.

"The Twa Corbies, Revisited" gives us the tale of a ghoul who hopes for something more, and who, as a result, sets about making a legend of himself in the world of the living.

"The Carver of Skulls" gives us a different insight into immortality and helps us to understand the downside to granting the wishes of others.

Each story is exquisitely drawn and each interesting from sheer innovation on ancient themes.  The stories all reflect common elements that one could find in any thematic analysis of folklore and m&auml:rchen.  The author has a deft hand, most particularly at the stories that reflect a Chinese or Japanese background.  The descriptions are deft, rich, and full integrated, so that one does not feel that one has stumbled over a block of poetry that was somehow cut adrift in the midst of prose.

The only defect occurs in the later stories in that there were serious problems with the editing/proofreading that occasionally jar so seriously as to throw the reader, only for a moment, out of the world of the story.

Beautifu, rich, and deep stories worth the time and the energy to savor slowly.  Go, enjoy.

High recommended.  ****1/2

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