Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review: Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia by Rachel Swirsky ★★★★

Portrait of Lisane de PatagniaThis is the second short story that I picked up from Tor for free - again, I was drawn in by accolades - this was a Nebula Award nominee - but mostly I was hooked by the cover. I LOVE the cover... it's almost vampiric, like the taller woman is breathing the life right out of her victim. I love the haunted quality the woman in white has, and the way she seems to be basking in the theft of her. I love the kind of greedy sensuality of the cover.

These are the things that I thought when I picked this up. I didn't notice the paintbrushes, and despite the title, I didn't really think of this book being about art. I don't really read book descriptions much, and I didn't read this one. I read it while I was reading the story though, and I almost wish I hadn't, because even the one sentence teaser of a description caused me to assume things about the story. Which is why I don't like to read them in the first place.

I was not thrilled with the other free Tor story I picked up. It told everything and showed nothing, it lacked substance and meaning and just did nothing but disappoint me. In comparison, Portait of Lisane de Patagnia had all of that. The writing was evocative and descriptive, and the story was interesting and compelling. I wanted to know where it was going.

It seems like I've been reading a lot of stories about art as a method of creation, but not very many stories about art as a method of destruction. But really it wasn't so much about the art, this story. It was more about the relationship between this particular artist and her subject, between teacher and student, lovers. It was about the bitterness that can be created when hopes and expectations aren't met, and how that bitterness can create something new and powerful in its own image.

I really enjoyed this little story, though there were times when I was a little confused, because the narrative jumped around from present day to scenes from the past, and there wasn't always a clear delineation between them. But it wasn't difficult to keep up with the story, I just had to backtrack a couple times.

I can't say that I really liked the characters, but I could identify with them and I had no trouble understanding them. I am always a little impressed by this in short stories, because it seems to me that identifiable characters are hard for many to write even in full length novels, so to do so in only 32 pages makes me happy. There are only a few authors that I've seen write stories this short (or shorter) that have well-written characters, and they are among my favorite authors. I take this as a sign that I may need to search out more of Swirsky's books.

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