Match Book: A Fantastic, Fantastical Book for the New, Cool Woman in My Life

Spread the love


Credit Joon Mo Kang

Dear Match Book,

I’m a queer, mixed-race Latina living in Nashville, Tenn. I’m an introvert who never fits in anywhere I go. I’m an atheist who works at a church and a woman who works in a tech department.

I’ve just recently begun dating an awesome woman from New York City. She loves to read George Saunders and Octavia E. Butler and watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer and “Game of Thrones” (she’s also read the books by George R. R. Martin). Can you help me think of a book I could recommend for her that would knock her adorable socks off?


Dear Laurie,

Your letter sparked a burst of gleeful nostalgia between an old friend and me: People are still wooing each other with books! Mixtapes may be virtually obsolete, my friend noted, but seduction through books — another courting method left over from the analog age — lives on.

It was during the heyday of mixtapes that I first read “Geek Love” (1989) by Katherine Dunn. Before I picked up Dunn’s novel about the Binewskis, a family of self-styled carnival freaks, I had been semi-estranged from fantastical fiction since childhood. But Dunn’s daring spectacular — told in a torrent of sharp, detailed language — about family and love and belonging pulled me back into the realm of fantasy.

Plenty of contemporary fiction flirts with fantasy — a superpower here, a portal there — but Nnedi Okorafor’s 2010 novel “Who Fears Death” is an ambitious, sprawling true science fiction novel that grapples with race and gender. Set in a post-apocalyptic African world, the book tells the story of a shape-shifting sorceress named Onyesonwu with a heroic, tragic destiny. Her fully imagined emotional and physical life connects with vivid sensory details (this book describes such intense smells!) and an emphasis on the power of stories to create a world that feels very real, despite the novel’s wild, speculative elements.

The connections made in “The Passion,” Jeanette Winterson’s historical fairy tale published in 1987, are erotic and semi-supernatural. Set in Europe (mainly Venice) during the Napoleonic Wars, the book alternates between the narration of Henri, who wants to be a drummer in Napoleon’s army, but ends up a cook, and Villanelle, the cross-dressing daughter of a Venetian boatman, born with webbed feet during a solar eclipse. Their narratives eventually weave together, passing in and out of magic and revealing how both characters are driven by lust and undone by love.

Intertwining narratives also underpin Samantha Hunt’s 2016 novel “Mr. Splitfoot.” And spooky elements — including spiritualism — imbue the story about two women, Ruth and Cora, whose lives and missions overlap. But what sets this moving and mysterious novel apart is Hunt’s understanding of children and outcasts and those unfortunate characters who are both. The children in “Mr. Splitfoot” — Ruth and her tormentor/savior, Nat — meet in a group home where, “new arrivals carve filthy words into their dry skin, aching for their absent mothers.” Mothers, even absent ones, are the glue that fuses the two narratives into one journey.

Contrary to the dictates of their nature, vampires have thrived during their recent time in the sun. Their proliferation throughout popular culture takes nothing away from the magic of Karen Russell’s short story collection “Vampires in the Lemon Grove.” Not all of her stories feature the undead, though the weary fanged one in the title story has abundant charm and “a tan that won’t fade until I die (which I never will).” Russell’s command of the conventions of supernatural storytelling — which allows her to tweak the immortal and other supernatural forces — makes all her stories funny, poignant and profound.

In Kelly Link’s short fiction anything is possible. A raucous birthday party on a spaceship, a child born without a shadow, and in “Origin Story” — my favorite story in her collection “Get in Trouble” — there’s even a defunct George Saunders-esque theme park based on “The Wizard of Oz” and a reference to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” In each of her fantastical tales, Link creates a new universe from scratch, complete with different laws of physics. From story to story, the styles and environments vary so widely that it takes me a page or two to adjust to each new atmosphere. The supernatural results are disorienting and dazzling, but Link’s characters are so familiar and human — even when they are not — that it’s easy to fall in love.

Yours truly,
Match Book

Need something to read? Write to

Continue reading the main story

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *