by Michelle Reale
What seems to be missing in so many recent collections of short
stories, is, simply the story. There are times when the reader simply
wants to be entertained, dropped into an alternate world where, even if
things are upside down, wacky, so different that nothing is immediately
recognizable to you, you settle in, because you know you are going to
be entertained. While reading The
I would stop, occasionally to marvel at how much I was enjoying the
innocent and playful stories of this crazy family. While Joan Aikens
writing is not "simplistic" by any stretch of the imagination, it
is "simple". What I mean by that is that the writing really is great
storytelling. If she paid attention at all to the kind of writing that
was in vogue during the vast years of her writing career, it doesn't
manifest itself in the writing. The stories seem to spring from what
was surely (given the sheer output and popularity of her books) an
extremely active and creative mind, in all ways dedicated to the
enjoyment of the reader.
twenty-four stories collected in this volume and published by Big Mouth
House follow the Armitage family in their day to day lives. Mr and Mrs
Armitage, and their children Mark, Harriet and Milo take the absolute
magical for granted, while into even the most seemingly mundane aspects
of their lives amazing characters visit upon them.
serves to explain to the reader why it is that "odd things frequently
happened to the Armitages". Why, indeed. On their honeymoon, when Mrs.
Armitage questions her husband on what married life will be like, and
he quite aptly describes the proscribed traditional roles, she
responds: "I see. You don't think . . . that sounds a little dull?" She
to list her wishes such as the house she'd like to live in, the
children she'd like to have and what she will name them. And of course,
in the Armitage world, all of this and then some come to pass. And, as
the reader soon comes to know, Mondays have a particular significance
in the Armitage family.
Other stories include The Frozen Cuckoo
where the Armitage house becomes a sort of seminary for young magicians
to train. Broomsticks
follows Mrs. Armitage as she finds out what her darling children Mark
and Harriet are learning in their school. Readers will find truly
delightful, Mrs. Armitage's efforts to raise money for "distressed old
fair ladies" in Armitage,
Armitage, Fly Away Home.
collection contains wonderful introductions by Garth Nix and Lizzie
Aiken, Joan Aiken's daughter, both of which give a fitting homage to
Joan Aiken, and heartfelt appreciation for an extremely unique and
clever brand of storytelling.
Read a story
from this collection on Big Mouth House (Small Beer Press)
is an academic librarian on faculty at a university library in the
suburbs of Philadelphia. Her fiction has been published in
Verbsap, elimae, Word Riot, Rumble, Pank, Monkeybicycle, Eyeshot, Apt,
Pequin, Blood Orange Review, JMWW and others. Her fiction
chapbook, Natural Habitat, is forthcoming from Burning River Press.
Mouth House (Small Beer Press)
bio: Joan Aiken
was born in East Essex, England in 1924. Her father
famous writer, Conrad Aiken. She was a prolific writer of children's
books, thrillers and other series books such as the Wolves Chronicles
which is set in a Britain that has an alternate
history. Joan Aiken died in January 2004.
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Publisher's Website: Big Mouth House
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