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by Charles de Lint



384pp/$24.95/January 1999

Moonlight and Vines
Cover by Terri Windling

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Charles de Lint has long had a tendency to publish short stories in small, privately issued chapbooks. This means that many of his stories would be generally unavailable except for his complimentary tendency to publish collections which include the stories published by Triskell Press (his private publishing house). Not only does his latest collection, Moonlight and Vines, include four stories which originally appeared from Triskell Press, but it also includes three pieces which are original to Moonlight and Vines.

The book opens with the first of the originals, a poem which mixes the grittiness of the city with the wonder of magic. As such, it is a perfect depiction of the world which de Lint so often portrays. The second new piece, "If I Close My Eyes Forever" examines the gritty side as Kira Lee is hired to find a pendant which was stolen from her nameless client. The task takes her into Newford's burgeoning lesbian S&M scene. Finally, "In the Land of the Unforgiven" is a short piece which examines the juxtaposition of law, justice and guilt. If it is not entirely satisfying, it is only because de Lint addresses these issues but doesn't fully explore their interplay.

The collection includes several stories which can be categorized as similar. While nearly all the stories explore existence on the edge of mainstream society (and the interplay with magic), the first several stories, and a few mixed throughout the book also take a look at loneliness, whether it is Christy Riddell turning to a woman who seems to have been created out of the internet or Nita, the stripper who has no friends and has lost her husband and is about to lose her children. While these stories frequently offer some hope, they all too often leave the reader with a sense of despair.

Later in the book, de Lint includes several stories which have themes of hope and altruism, whether it is a dead assassin leaving his fortune to help children or Sarah and Eliza working through their problems in order to maintain their relationship when Sarah is afraid Eliza is going crazy.

The lesbianism which appears in "If I Close My Eyes Forever" recurs in such stories as "Passing," about the homosexual awakenings of a newspaper reporter, "In This Soul of a Woman," about the stripper, Nita, and in "The Pennymen," although de Lint makes it clear that Eliza and Sarah are not lovers.

Many of the stories deal with the afterlife and what happens then. While none of these stories contradict each other directly, they do seem as if they are not entirely mutually compatible, which could mean that de Lint hasn't decided what happens after death in Newford, that different things happen in different circumstances, or that consistency in that regard is not particularly important. While uniformity matters less as the stories are written individually, by combining them in a collection and denoting that they all occur in the same world, there is a certain expectancy of internal consistency.

Taken individually, almost all of de Lint's stories are strong. While this would be impressive under the best of circumstances, the fact that several of the stories in Moonlight and Vines were written for written for theme anthologies, a type of book which is notorious for lightweight works, makes it even more impressive. De Lint's stories all stand on their own without the need for an explanation of what the anthology theme was. Even such stories as "China Doll," which was written for the narrowly focused The Crow anthology (Del Rey, 1998).

However, where the stories in this collection do suffer is from the fact that when these stories are read in order, or even just in the quantity which are presented in Moonlight and Vines, it becomes apparent that de Lint is playing with the same themes over and over with minor variations in characters and even less important variations in locations. Few of the characters stand out as individuals: Jilly Coppercorn, who has been around de Lint's stories forever, Christy Riddell, who appears in Moonlight and Vines to almost be de Lint's alter-ego, and Nacky Wilde, the ascerbic and sarcastic dwarf with the power to grant wishes.

Moonlight and Vines is vintage Charles de Lint and would provide a good introduction to de Lint's writing (as would his previous collections, Dreams Underfoot and The Ivory and the Horn). The stories are typical, but not simplistic. They raise issues which appear throughout his entire oeuvre, and, if he doesn't provide answers in the stories, he at least tackles the questions and tries, through repeated examinations, to figure out what it means to be a person living in the anonymous city in the 1990s. The recent stories set in Newford tend to be darker than the earlier stories, but that may just be an indication of de Lint's view of where our society is.

Sweetgrass & City Streets The Invisibles
Saskia Seven for a Secret
In This Soul of a Woman Crow Girls
The Big Sky Wild Horses
Birds In the Land of the Unforgiven
Passing My Life as a Bird
Held Safe by Moonlight and Vines China Doll
In the Pines In the Quiet After Midnight
Shining Nowhere but in the Dark The Pennymen
If I Close My Eyes Forever Twa Corbies
Heartfires The Fields Beyond the Fields

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