Monday, June 8, 2015

Review: The Best of Connie Willis

I've had an interesting experience reading books by Connie Willis. I remember enjoying a short story of hers while I was reading the anthology Rogues, but it wasn't until I picked up a copy of The Best of Connie Willis that I realized I'd actually read and enjoyed several of her novels when I was a kid (think around twelve). I'd loved The Doomsday Book and Bellweather. However, after so many years I'd forgotten about her (I'm not sure I realized at the time the same author wrote both books--I could be clueless that way). Yet when I picked up The Best of Connie Willis on a trip to the library, it all came back to me. I even bought a copy of The Doomsday Book at the library book sale, so I could reread it later. First, I wanted to read Willis' collection of award-winning short stories.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book is how diverse all the stories were although they all came from one author. Willis writes hilarious misadventures like "At the Rialto" (which is similar to the sparkling wit she displays in "Now Showing," her excellent contribution to Rogues), as well as creepy, atmospheric horror like "Death on the Nile." Willis excels at the slow reveal--the surface of her stories can seem ordinary, but powerful currents move in their depths. The dysfunctional married couples in "Death on the Nile," for example, seem caught up in their interpersonal dramas and touring Egypt even as evidence mounts that something is terribly wrong. "Firewatch" is an exercise in taut suspense, yet several surprises in the end give the story a haunting poignancy. Likewise, in "The Last of the Winnebagos," the photographer's trip to see the last Winnebago forces him to reflect on an entirely different loss.

Willis' subtlety and her insight into human nature make these some of the most profound science fiction stories I've read in a while. She wrestles with grief, loss, and the pain of disintegrating relationships, yet she's also able to write a hilarious send up of literary analysis and Emily Dickinson. I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes science fiction, or books of any kind really. I'm planning on reading more of her novels as soon as I can. 

2 comments:

  1. You've reminded me of how much I liked The Doomsday Book. But I don't think I ever read Bellwether. I think it shall go on the library wish list. Thanks!

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    1. You're welcome! I've since read "To Say Nothing of the Dog," which is another excellent book by Connie Willis as well.

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