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Wary Tales

New Book Distills The Best--So Far--Speculative Writings From A Beloved, Idiosyncratic Literary Journal

Deanna Staffo

By Adrienne Martini | Posted 8/29/2007

Two tidbits of information about the zine Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet are undeniably true: It has been publishing for a little over a decade and is named after Winston Churchill's mom, Jennie Jerome. Once you move past those two facts, the rest of the stories about both the Lady Churchill herself and the zine become hard to prove. Jerome, for example, may have had a snake tattooed on her left wrist. LCRW co-editor Gavin J. Grant may have been detained by Homeland Security in 2003. Or, perhaps, it was the other way around.

In the Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet--which contains an extensive mix of a decade's worth of good stuff from the zine--truth is irrelevant, really. What counts more than anything as mundane as reality is a writer's ability to capture the ineffable tone of the LCRW world.

Much like when reading McSweeney's Internet Tendency, which feels like a direct descendent of LCRW, you agree to enter wholly into this hard-yet-whimsical environment that the writers create. Any relationship between the publication's descriptions of how life is and how life actually is is purely coincidental. And, frankly, such instances where art and fact intersect are to be actively blurred.

In the wrong hands, this conceit would fall flat. Editors Kelly Link and Grant, however, don't spend their time winking ironically. Instead, the stories that they choose are solidly sincere with touches of all shades of earnest humor and dazzling skill. This collection does the zine one better. Not only does it showcase the best stories of LCRW's decade of life, but it also coherently uses them to examine the idea of fairy tales and how they fit into modern life.

Link's short story "Travels With the Snow Queen" is worth the purchase price alone. It spins the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the young girl who walks across broken shards of a mirror to rescue a boy from the evil clutches of the titular queen. Link shreds the fable with barely restrained glee, which makes it one heck of a fun read. Take moments like this one: "The guards politely pretend that they don't notice the trail of blood that you are leaving behind. They probably think it's some sort of female thing."

When you couple Link's story with Veronica Schanoes' "Serpents," with its Little Red Riding Hood overtones; Lawrence Schimel's "The Well-Dressed Wolf," with its deconstruction of the garments a wolf can wear; and Becca De La Rosa's "This Is the Train the Queen Rides On," with its direct question about whether or not we believe in fairy tales, you get the strong sense that Link and Grant are pushing readers to question what they know about Mother Goose and her pals. There isn't, however, an overbearing editorial subtext that answers these musings. All that Grant and Link want us to do is amuse ourselves with the thought.

That overarching theme, however, is only one small compartment of the bento box that is this collection. Not only do you get a recipe for the perfect martini and a how-to guide for drinking scotch, but you also get William Smith's movie reviews, poetry that doesn't suck, and advice from "Aunt Gwenda," aka writer Gwenda Bond. (A sample: "You can make men do anything you want by threatening to get a buzz cut. It's just like dads and the word stripper.") For the McSweeney's fan, there are also lists of the names of stuff, like teas or tomato hybrids. Because of its quirks, rather than in spite of them, the collection is an immersion into a fantastic world.

Fantastic, that is, in the sense that there are both dark and light elements to this alternate reality. The stories are what truly plumb these depths. Some, like Jeffrey Ford's "What's Sure to Come" and Karen Joy Fowler's "Heartland," provide straightforward narratives whose themes are clear. Others, like Philip Raines and Harvey Welles' "Fishie" and James Sallis' "Two Stories," feel like dreams, where the sense of meaning and connection flees the moment you fall out of their worlds. John Brown's "Bright Waters" is a textbook example of the economy of craft. Deborah Roggie's "The Mushroom Duchess" explores the psychology of self-esteem with a breezy tale about fungus.

There are some that fall flat, mind you, but most of the stories are just plain fun to read because their writers are having such a good time playing with language as if it were Silly Putty, stretching the text just to see how far it'll go before it snaps.

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