I am a thirty three year old man and I ruddy love a fairytale. There I have said it. I think that at the heart of every create story is the spark of a fairytale, the whole thing with fairytales is after all that anything is possible and when you open any book and enter into its world that is the feeling you should have. No, not every story has magic in it but by taking you away somewhere isn’t every story technically creating its own magic, yes even those gory crime novels. Anyway, I have gone a little off topic; suffice to say I love fairytales and so Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart and Other Stories has been a book I have meant to read for a very, very long time.
The more I loved him, the heavier my heart felt. Until I was walking around with my back bent and my knees cracking from the weight of it. When Jacob left, I felt my heart shatter with a shotgun pellet, shards lodging in my guts. I had to drink every night to wash the shards out. I had to.
It is really hard to summarise a collection of tales like The Rental Heart, partly because there are twenty of them and partly because they are all so varied and each one creates its own world so intricately that I want to surmise each one, but that would spoil it for potential future readers so I won’t. What I will say is that they are all in some way about love, lust or loss, or the emotions in-between and around those three states. They are all also wonderfully magical and escapist and yet when you read them the world they inhabit is not too far from our own there is just the potential and acceptance that magic and bizarre things can happen be they good or be they bad.
Ladies build paper men in the night to fight their loneliness or buy coin operated boys to the envy of others. Young girls dare to find wicked witches and then fall in love with them. Men take finding a father figure too far. Love and lust reach an epiphany at the end of the world. People eat light bulbs. People fall in love but need to buy a new heart each time they do it. These and many other wondrous, puzzling and magical things happen in the worlds that Kirsty Logan so beautifully creates.
Because it is going to end, and everything I have is not enough. I need another soul, another set of guts to feel this. Maybe her body merging with mine will be the grace I need.
In school they taught us about the Big Bang: the universe expanding out from a dense primordial heat. They didn’t tell us that eventually it was all going to contract back again. For a month I’d been planning to tell her that I needed more space, some time to myself. Then they announced that the world was crashing in on our heads, and now all I want is to get inside her.
Logan’s writing is just gorgeous. She has an ability to conjure up so much in a single sentence or two that it is no wonder that these short stories, no matter how short, come with fully formed worlds with pasts, presents and futures (well with the exception of the apocalyptic The Last 3,600 Seconds, though what comes after the end of the world, probably something with Logan). In a single line or two someone can fall apart or fall in love. She smelled of rain and revolution. I fell. I also loved the originality that I found within all the stories of The Rental Heart even if shades of tales before or genres we know are encountered, there is always something different. In the latter case stories that have a steam punk edge, such as Coin-Operated Boys, also have something fresh and vibrant about them.
Many of the stories that I loved the most were ones which in some way feature an original fairytale that then gets Logan-ised and twisted in a new way, generally more gothic yet often modern too. Underskirts is like a tale of a female Bluebeard, which I adored for its gossipy nature and sauce. Tiger Palace is a wonderful riff on Beauty and the Beast which I shall say no more about for fear of spoiling. There are also tales like All The Better To Eat You With and Matryoska that take tales you know and love and spin them a little more, a heady hint of the new with a sprinkling of nostalgia. However Sleeping Beauty is the tale retold that I found the most brilliant (in terms of what it says and its power) and indeed the most disturbing and Logan turns it into a tale of sexual abuse, not many people could craft a tale like Logan does in this one. There are other tales which hold this particularly dark heart,
Daniel first kisses his brother in a town where no one knows them, a no-account place that’s barely even a town, just some buildings clustered around a highway: a smoky bar, an empty motel, a convenience store that only sells candy and condoms and beer. The nearest gas station is twenty miles away. The nearest bus station is fifty.
Yes some of these tales will shock as much as many of them will tantalise and titillate. This leads on to the many themes and layers of all the tales within the collection of The Rental Heart. In many ways it is a collection of very feminist tales (this is not a criticism, but you know me you’ll know that) and the twists that it takes on tales we know tend to highlight either a woman’s power or her vulnerability in all sorts of different ways, as I said there’s twenty tales here so it is hard to wrap them all up easily and I don’t want to. One of the most wonderful ones is Momma Grows A Diamond which looks at girls being flowers until they come of age and turn to jewels, after all a diamond is harder to damage than a flower – as I said, many layers in these stories.
Naturally in conjuncture with that both gender and sexuality are also predominant themes too. Wonderfully, more often than not, you cannot tell the gender of the person telling the tale and so if they fall in love with a woman or man they too could be a woman or a man. Love is just love after all, in all its queerest of ways. Logan celebrates this, hoorah for that!
One tale in particular stands out in this corking collection for me. (There is always one isn’t there, no matter how brilliant a collection.) Una and Coll are not Friends completely and utterly stole my heart. It is the tale of two young people who both stand out, well you would if one of you had antlers and the other had the tail of a tiger, and so people assume that because they are both different they should get on. Well they don’t, at first, and we follow how that relationship builds and turns out. I know, I know, no spoilers but if it doesn’t choke you up or make you beam then there is no hope for you, or heart in you.
Many, many people told me how much I would love The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales and they were all completely right. It is one of those collections that I will return to and simply pick a tale at random and know I will be lost with a whole world after a few sentences. It is also a collection that has grown on me more and more since I read it, with certain stories lingering in my mind long after. I am now very eager to get to The Gracekeepers (of which the initial idea is in The Gracekeeper in this collection interestingly) and her new collection A Portable Shelter which I treated myself to earlier this year. Treat yourself to this collection if you haven’t already, it is a collection of wonder and brilliance even at its darkest.