Angela Carter, praised for her novel, "Nights at the Circus," now presents a collection of vibrant fictional fantasies. These aren't tales for the faint-hearted, although they take on familiar subjects, ones that are part of our psychic mythology.
Unlike most contemporary fiction, these fresh and often disturbing stories are special because of the absence of the author as a personal voice. Carter delights in submerging herself in various moods, leading readers into a story until they're completely absorbed in another world, perhaps that of Baudelaire's Caribbean Creole mistress or that of a hermaphrodite sneezing in the unseasonal rain of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Some pieces here are no more than skillful flashes, exhibiting Carter's seductive literary dexterity. But within this collection, there are at least three distinctly memorable, outstanding stories. "The Fall River Axe Murders" captures the background and psychology of the Lizzie Borden murders. August, 1892, is a hot, satanic month when " . . . the descendants of the industrious, self-mortifying saints who imported the Protestant ethic wholesale into a land intended for the siesta are proud of flying in the face of nature." The greedy and gluttonous personalities of Lizzie's father and stepmother are shown as viciousness masquerading as Puritanical goodness. Lizzie's frustrations mount to the moment just before the murders; readers are left with the heavy, American misery of her time and place. The accumulation of detail, along with the insight of an objective author who demands that readers see the evidence for themselves, make this story unforgettable.