Whether offering a fresh perspective on an ancient tale or inventing a new world, Margo Lanagan’s YELLOWCAKE, a collection of 10 short stories, takes an emotion, a desire, a sin and spins it into something else entirely. Each story deals in superlatives (supernatural, extraordinary, paranormal,) but all are firmly grounded by their central theme.
"Lanagan’s command of language sweeps the reader into the world of each story, requiring only a page or two to get you settled before casting off."
The collection centers on characters: a spurned sorcerer, a power-hungry soldier, a lovesick circus performer and so on. These characters are faced with their particular problems or tell their particular story while a feeling of doom mixed with hope with a dash of wonder connects their disparate times, places and states of being. The title of the collection is opaque --- does it refer to highly enriched uranium or to, well, yellow cake? --- but that confusion of meaning reflects the essence of the book much better than a simple summary ever could.
As with many short story collections, a variety of tastes are satisfied from cover to cover. The lover of fairy tales will find as much to enjoy in YELLOWCAKE as the lover of history. Lanagan’s command of language sweeps the reader into the world of each story, requiring only a page or two to get you settled before casting off. Varying lengths set up a deliberate almost swaying rhythm as you make your way from place to place, idea to idea.
Lanagan’s stories burrow into your skull, find a nice warm place and make you think about who you are and what you want, all under the guise of somewhat whimsical fantasy. But what is fantasy for if not that?
Reviewed by Dave Franklin on May 17, 2013