About Rikki Ducornet: “Ducornet is an American postmodernist, writer, poet, and artist. Her father was a professor of sociology, and her mother hosted community-interest programs on radio and television. Ducornet grew up on the campus of Bard College in New York, earning a B.A. in Fine Arts from the same institution in 1964. While at Bard she met Robert Coover and Robert Kelly, two authors who shared Ducornet’s fascination with metamorphosis and provided early models of how fiction might express this interest. In 1972 she moved to the Loire Valley in France with her then-husband, Guy Ducornet. In 1988 she won a Bunting Institute fellowship at Radcliffe. In 1989 she moved back to North America after accepting a teaching position in the English Department at The University of Denver. In 2007, she replaced retired Dr. Ernest Gaines as Writer in Residence at The University of Louisiana. In 2008, The American Academy of Arts and Letters conferred upon her one of the eight annual Academy Awards presented to writers.”
A collection with 55 stories is bound to be uneven, doubly so for me, as I’m partial to novels, and the heftier the better. I’ve never been fully satiated by any story collection, except for Ficciones by Borges, who could condense a novel, a universe, into a singularity 25 pages or so in (Planck) length. Although I read many worthy collections last year (DFW’s Oblivion, Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse, Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, and McElroy’s Night Soul), Ficciones still stands (Bab)alone as a cosmic monolith.
In The Complete Butcher’s Tales, Ducornet’s short stories are short-short, otherwise known as ‘flash fiction,’ a term I don’t care for all that much. But they do not employ Borgesian condensation. Rather, they tend to alternate between the meso- and microscopic, only occasionally flirting with the macroscopic, which caused some stories to feel as though they were amputated from a larger whole.
The styles range from whimsical sci-fi and necromantic western to almost slice of life. Despite the variety and unevenness, there can be found thematic and lexical overlaps. Many of these stories explore corporeality vis-à-vis mutilations, whether self-, cerebral, homicidal, spontaneous, or all of the above, all existing as linguistic dream-symptoms of hypochondria.
Conversely/concurrently, there is an encapsulation of childhood’s hyperboles: faux innocence and precocious malevolence versus the primordial mystery and wonder that can be spurred by or latched onto something as simple as a shiny coin or as exotic as a two-headed cobra suspended in formaldehyde, or marquetry that depicts how “a mature albino ape, its heart pierced by an arrow, falls from a tropical tree. As he falls he attempts to catch the blood ropes spouting from his breast. In truth his wound is fathomless, a mortal fracture in the body of the world.”
The third thematic thread that Ducornet’s corpus is no stranger to is Eros, wresting him/herself from the arms of Morpheus or the penumbra of Thanatos. One example is a literal coming of age: “Not many days before her ninth birthday, scrubbing herself in the bath with a natural sea-sponge that looked like the ear of an elephant, she discovered a part of herself tucked away like a pearl button or the tender, firm bud of a rose. Gently caressed with the sponge or, better still, her own middle finger, it gave her intense pleasure. The spasms were so violent that for one crazy moment she thought that she had been hurtled out to sea, her salty bath bewitched, whipped to a froth by the cyclone that circumvoluted her spine.”
One can’t fail to mention that Ducornet treats blank pages like the foreheads of mythical golems, inscribing them with words of infinite life using a sentient and alchemical language. Her often spellbinding prose makes the stories almost a crime for their brevity. All the more reason to prefer the novel form. My first Ducornet was the coral-encrusted and seaweed-wreathed Fountains of Neptune, which was an astounding treasure of aqua-nautical stories-within-stories. Most of all, I look forward to reading the rest of that elemental tetralogy.
And true to the dust jacket marketing, there are some fairy tales a lá Angela Carter, there is a meta-/pseudo-sequel to Borge’s “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” and there is a bit of Lovecraftian craft.
However, I don’t think this collection should be simply read through, but rather left on the shelf to be picked up at one’s leisure in order to savor a tale or two or three.
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George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, House of Zolo, Three Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.