Review

Jigs & Reels: Stories

by Joanne Harris



Joanne Harris, author of CHOCOLAT, BLACKBERRY WINE and FIVE
QUARTERS OF THE ORANGE, cooks up a surprise for her many fans in
this anthology: Not only can she write short stories, she can also
display an amazing range. These pieces are completely unlike her
dreamily delicious food-oriented novels, some dipping into human
nature's dark and secretive aspects. In her foreword, Harris muses
on how delightful it is to find short stories back in vogue. Her
anthology should help keep them in style.

JIGS & REELS begins with the irresistible "Faith and Hope Go
Shopping," in which two residents in a nursing home escape into the
outside world to seek their hearts' desires. But just as the reader
settles comfortably in after that heartwarmingly adventurous yarn,
she encounters the polar opposite in "The G-SUS Gene," a scathing
science fiction yarn about free will and religion, which left me
pondering, "Did she mean...? Or was it...?" In the author's
foreword, she confides that short stories stick with her; I can
guarantee I'll be pondering "The G-SUS Gene" for quite some
time.

Harris specializes in a good twist in the tale; some are more of a
surprise than others. In "Hello, Goodbye" a gossip columnist's
disturbing take on an ultrafashionable funeral culminates with an
expected but ironic and tragic twist. I could never have predicted
the ending of "Waiting for Gandalf," in which a group's
long-running role-playing game goes awry when cynical newcomers
join in. And I adored the surreal kink in the plot of the honeymoon
saga "Fish."

Harris's characters, such as the plump, bald vampire (virgins would
never look at this leech twice) in "Never Give A Sucker . . ." are
wonderfully strange and strangely wonderful. A loner receives an
amazing gift, one with the potential to keep on giving, from "Tea
With the Birds" enigmatic Mr. Tamaoki. We even get a peek into the
other side of the Cinderella tale from "The Ugly Sister." The stars
of "Auto-da-fe" and "Free Spirit" are terrifying characters. And
speaking of characters --- what becomes of the ones writers
abandon? Harris gives us the answer in the Twilight Zone-ish "Last
Train to Dogville."

I admire Harris for demonstrating her considerable skill in an
amazing variety of genres, which include horror stories, fractured
fairy tales, a hilarious class reunion of witches, a chilling
version of THE LITTLE MERMAID, offbeat love stories, and more.
However, a few of the pieces, such as "Any Girl Can Be a CandyKiss
Girl!" and "A Place in the Sun," seem to be not quite stories with
plots, but more on the order of scathing fictional commentary on
our preoccupation with beauty and youth. Reading these is like
being served only exotic appetizers when you're expecting a hearty
rib-sticking meal --- interesting but not very satisfying.

Although a bit more development would have boosted considerably the
quality of a handful of pieces, I was enthralled with a majority of
the tales. As a fan of Harris's dreamy novels, I enjoyed being
awakened to her stunning range as a storyteller and look forward to
reading more of her short stories.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (terryms2001@yahoo.com) on January 22, 2011

Jigs & Reels: Stories
by Joanne Harris

  • Publication Date: August 10, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060590130
  • ISBN-13: 9780060590130