The Wishing Pool and Other Stories
by Tananarive Due
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted April 12, 2023
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I received a digital review copy of this title from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Tananarive Due's The Wishing Pool and Other Stories will be published next week, April 18. Either the acknowledgments were written before the table of contents was finalized, or my copy is missing three stories, but also includes two she didn't mention. I haven't been able to find the ToC anywhere (other than my Kindle copy), not on her website or her publisher's, or ISFDb, and Amazon does not include its customary "Look Inside" feature, but probably will after next Tuesday. As far as I've been able to determine, the original publication dates range from 2016 to earlier this year. They are presented in four different parts which group them somewhat by theme: Wishes, the Gracetown Stories, the Nayima Stories, and Future Shock. I'll give just a brief synopsis of each.
The title story, which appeared in Uncanny Magazine in 2021, emphasizes the oft-spoken phrase, "be careful what you wish for." Joy returns to the family cabin in the woods a year after her mother's death, with the fear her father is approaching dementia. She recalls the wishing pool between their property and that of another family, whose daughter was roughly the same age. Natalie used her wishes at least twice, both with unexpected consequences. Did Joy dare try again to help her father? Even if the wish benefitted him, how would it affect her? "Haint in the Window" is set in South Central LA, originally a white neighborhood, changed to primarily black later. Darryl now owns a bookstore he had worked at for many years, most of the stock being black authors. But the neighborhood is changing once again, with gentrification rearing its head, with older apartment buildings revamped into over-priced condos. If Darryl had a wish it would be for that to stop, so he wouldn't be forced to stock his shelves with the latest NY Times bestsellers from predominantly white authors. But his haint has other ideas, which Darryl learns too late. "Incident at Bear Creek Lodge" is about a young teen boy forced to visit his grandmother, a former movie star, for Christmas at her Colorado house, while his mother stays in Florida, far away from the mother she fears. An obliging uncle isn't much help, since he is usually stoned. The woman, known for a string of comedies as the maid Lazy Mazy, proves to be an arrogant, over-bearing, controlling woman, one the boy would like to forget, but can he ever forget the weirdness he witnesses there? "Thursday Night Shift" is more SF than fantasy or horror, although a very horrific event is witnessed by its main character. Was she somehow responsible, could she have prevented it? I won't say which historical event it was, but an appropriate alternate title would have been "306."
The Gracetown stories are about a strange and mysterious small town in Florida, where weird things happen, or at least people believe them to have happened. In "Last Stop on Route 9" a woman and her young cousin get lost after leaving a funeral, trying to find where the family would be gathering afterwards. Passing through a dense cloud of fog (on an otherwise clear, sunny day?) they are forced to stop and ask for directions. After escaping what they think are just crazy rednecks, they pass back through the fog to find another road entirely, and that there is no Route 9. "Suppertime" is the most recent story, having appeared in the Nisi Shawl edited collection New Suns 2 just a month ago. It is set in 1909, where a young black girl is surprised when the bobcat she nurtured when it was young and injured returns about four months later. A bit wilder, but still somewhat tame, and a fierce defender of the girl when something even wilder threatens her. "Rumpus Room" is one of the stories not mentioned in the acknowledgments, and I'm not sure when it was written or if it had been previously published. It is a straight up horror story about a woman estranged from her daughter due to an accident she admits was her fault. She meets a much older white man in a bar, who offers her a job as cook and cleaning woman, letting her live on his property in the rumpus room he had built for his daughter, who had drowned in the nearby canal. "Migration" might be the oldest story, having appeared in Nightmare Magazine in 2016. Another horror story about a seemingly possessed woman, which once again proves you might take the person out of Gracetowwn, but you couldn't take Gracetown out of the person. "Caretaker" is about an infant found alive and apparently unharmed, clean and well-fed, nearly two weeks after his parents died of murder/suicide. Who was his caretaker?
Parts 3 and 4 are stories set in the future, most of the post-apocalyptic variety. There are just two Nayima Stories, "One Day Only" and "Attachment Disorder," both featuring Nayima, but at two different periods in her life. She is in her mid-20s in the first one, living in an abandoned Malibu beach home, following a widespread pandemic for which she proved to be immune, although she is a carrier. Instead of keeping a journal, she has filled a notebook with jokes instead, and she decides to perform those jokes on the beach for anyone else who cares to attend. Because the news of her comedy gig has spread, the story ends with government helicopters approaching. She is in her mid-60s in "Attachment Disorder," having spent years in laboratories in Sacramento, with a vaccine produced from the antibodies in her blood, along with others of the immune. During her time in the labs, researchers had taken tissue samples from her and a man named Raul, to produce an offspring, who would hopefully be both immune and not a carrier. I don't know if there have been any other Nayima stories, previously published or otherwise, but if so I want to read them. They share the same main character, but otherwise would have also fit in the last section, Future Shock, all three stories of which are about other pandemics. It's not clear where the sickness originated in "Ghost Ship," with one of the passengers, or maybe the exotic animal Florida is forced to smuggle to the US. "Shopping Day" is about a mother who goes out to get needed supplies, but her children fear she will not make it back before curfew, and there is a pending evacuation order as well. "The Biographer" is another not mentioned at the end, with no clue as to whether it had seen print before. Many years following another pandemic, a former film director/writer is visited by an "official biographer," whom she assumes wants to know the hows and whys of her most famous film, about a pandemic, but produced years before the real thing. Perhaps the biographer is not as official as she claims.
This is a fascinating collection, with common themes, but the characters and situations they are faced with are also unique to their circumstances. The fact that most of the characters are black should not dissuade others from reading. We all have hopes and fears, with past actions and thoughts that haunt us. Perhaps not as traumatic as a lot of blacks experience, but close enough that anyone should be able to relate. There were times I was thinking of mentioning a slight criticism, but later decided Due's approach was correct. Most of the stories end abruptly, so some readers might feel cheated of a resolution, but based on the information presented it is easy to assume what comes next. Whether your ideas match Due's intent is not important, since stories take on their own life once they are read. The only one for which I would have liked just one more sentence though: what was at the end of the rope Kat is pulling up from the canal in "Rumpus Room"? Fourteen stories, any number of which should resonate with most readers. Highly recommended.
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