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Fiction

October 04, 1987|Judith Freeman

BUFFALO GALS AND OTHER ANIMAL PRESENCES by Ursula K. Le Guin; illustrated by Margaret Chodos (Capra Press: $15.95; 196 pp.). How wonderful to be in the hands of an accomplished storyteller like Ursula K. Le Guin, whose work shares in that imaginative transformation of the world sometimes called magical realism, science fiction, or fantasy. Years ago, I read a story by her, in which women--not men--were the first to reach the South Pole. The premise was an ingenious alteration of historical fact. I have never forgotten the story, for its beauty and invention.

"Many women and some men are now engaged in what almost seems a shared undertaking of retelling, rethinking the myths and tales we learned as children," writes Le Guin in an introduction to this new collection from Capra Press. "Very often the re-visioning consists in a 'simple' change of point of view." What if, for instance, animals, rocks, and plants were given their voice and told us certain stories?

In "Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences," a novella, 10 stories, and 18 poems (plus commentaries by the author), this is exactly what happens. Animals speak to each other and to humans. Sentient plants unfold their stories. Laboratory rats reveal their distress and confusion. "Various real or imaginary relations and comminglings of human and other beings are going on here," says Le Guin.

In the novella, coyote finds a girl in the desert, a survivor of a plane crash, and leads her back to his dwelling in a "town" inhabited by other creatures. In another story, an oak reveals how it must engage in synchronicity whenever others approach--looming, towering and receding with appropriate speed. Automobiles, as you can imagine, cause awful problems.

Le Guin doesn't prettify her creatures. Instead, her imagination simply works its wonders, affording those different perspectives on the world. This is a wonderful collection, wise and engaging, full of beauty and wit. Some stories are suitable for older children, others are more complex and belong to adults.

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