Posted by: GravatarWon'tDeleteMyAccount | October 7, 2008

Maureen McHugh: Mothers and Other Monsters

Okay, let me first apologise for the two-day delay in this post. I’m sure all three of you who read this were very saddened that it wasn’t up as promptly as it should have been, but I should be back on form for next week. Now on to the review šŸ™‚

What struck me most about this collection of short stories was, in fact, the decided lack of monsters. Of course it had mothers, and this is certainly not to suggest that there weren’t elements of the monstrous in each story, but merely that most of the characters’ monstrosity seemed to be confined to their own opinions of themselves. In fact, those furthest from being monsters were, perhaps, the mothers in the stories which had them, who seemed instead to be real people in uncomfortable and challenging circumstances, who do admirably to fight their darker instincts — to my mind, the mark of what distinguishes well between a person and a monster.

Of course, there was the very brief appearance of a creature that could easily be described as a monster, in ‘The Beast,’ but the story was left just unexplained enough to allow my feeble mind to accept the possibility of it representing something far darker than any physical monster. I’m no genius of literary analysis, so I’ll leave the interpretation to you.

Another thing that struck me as I was reading these stories was the genre. Normally (and I say this was a bit of sadness, really), capital-L Literature is kept segregated from sci-fi and magical realism. Less so the latter (one need only read the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez to see the point where capital-L Literature and magical realism meet), but especially the former. If a spacecraft appears at any point in your book, then chances are you’re likely to have it relegated to the shelf at the back of the bookstore with the Star Wars novels, or else somewhere near the Dragonlance Chronicles, there to be ignored by the self-proclaimed literati. McHugh has, quite deftly, I think, snuck ghosts and spaceships and future ‘cures’ for Alzheimer’s into a work of traditional Lit. The world, I think, is better for it.

This collection of short stories deals with the complexities and frailties of interpersonal relationships, poses ethical and philosophical questions about everything from cloning to dementia, from the afterlife to the twinned troubles of divorce and remarriage. At times funny, tragic, worrying and thought-provoking, this collection is the work of a skilled craftswoman.

This is the first collection McHugh has released under a Creative Commons license. Her first novel, China Mountain Zhang, won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, the Locus Award and the Lambda Literary Award, and the story “The Lincoln Train,” included in Mothers and Other Monsters, won the Hugo award. Her blog, No Feeling of Falling can be found here (though as I’m writing this, it hasn’t been updated since the end of July ’08).

Mothers and Other Monsters is released under a Creative Commons License Summary: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0. It can be downloaded here from Small Beer Press, or bought online here at

Back next week!

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