Extended Review: A Handful Of Pearls And Other Stories By Beth Bernobich
Beth Bernobich's latest fantasy anthology A Handful Of Pearls and Other Stories, received an RT Top Pick! RT reviewer Victoria Frerichs who gave the collection a *Web Exclusive Review* says, "It is the most compelling ever read by this reviewer." Today Frerichs re-visits her review to explain why readers will connect with this brilliant anthology.
Sometimes, as a reviewer, you come across authors who stay with you well after the book is laid on the bedside table and the light is turned down. Some authors explore themes that disturb you, even as their characters touch you with their humanity.
Passion Play by Beth Bernobich is one such novel. I'd read Passion Play, the recipient of 2010's RT Reviewers' Choice Award for Epic Fantasy, on the recommendation of another RT reviewer. The choices made by the characters in the story can be disturbing and even jarring, but the open humanity of the characters invests the reader in them. I was captured by Bernobich's style, how she spun her characters out of her book and stamped them on your mind.
When offered the opportunity to review Bernobich's previously published A Handful of Pearls and Other Stories for a *Web Exclusive Review*, I jumped at the chance. Her ability to disturb and intrigue at the same time does not disappoint in this collection. Indeed, Bernobich's stories continue exploring themes outside the realm of polite discourse. She discusses highly socially charged issues in each of her stories; it is as if she knows that there is important work to be done and she does not want to waste her words by not discussing them. The various themes in these stories include genetic manipulation, authoritarian government, slavery, rape, gender identity, criminal behavior, social norms and same-sex relations.
The difference — and this is a very big difference indeed — between Bernobich's stories discussing these topics and others is that her characters are so engaging, so well-drawn and full to bursting with life and humanity. Never once while reading these stories will the reader put the book down and say, "I just read a story about rape". Instead, her stories are about people, about their individual emotional response to highly stressful situations and the lives they live amid that stress daily.
Adjua's story is especially compelling. Her voice is so real throughout "Jump to Zion" that the reader can almost hear her words, whispered in a smoky-voiced cadence in the ear. "Jump to Zion" is about slavery, but it is a slavery of the future, not the past slavery most of us relate to in the United States. "Jump to Zion" voices the life and love and care and fear of a woman born into slavery and her love for her child. It explores the limited choices and options available to a woman in such a life. What does a mother do when she cannot choose to love the father of her child, when she cannot choose to raise her child, when someone else can take her child and make her child into something she is not?
There is a theme of romance throughout all of A Handful of Pearls and Other Stories, each character in each story is telling the tale of their own love in some way. "Remembrance" has the most distinctly romantic tale of the collection. Kate is used to her partner Jessica being deployed for long periods of time, and uses gardening to ease the ache of loneliness that happens during those deployments. The most recent deployment is unique; the shadowy government operation that Jessica works for has created a communication device that allows Kate to feel what Jessica is feeling, to experience all the sensory experience Jessica feels as she sends a message. The experimentation of the device is part of the deployment, but Kate wonders if this is the trip Jessica will never return from.
These stories will touch you. The characters are so tangible, they could be any among us, even if they are shape shifters, rapists or slaves; Bernobich creates a sense of normalcy in each of them, which makes them highly relatable. You will know them by the time you finish their stories, and they will remain in your mind long after. For me, that is a rare talent indeed, characters that stay with you, like Adjua, become like companions in your thoughts. The best thing is how consistently Bernobich manages to do this; there is not a single story in A Handful of Pearls and Other Stories where she does not manage it. A consistently good writer, who writes consistently compelling characters in consistently amazing stories — we need more of that.
- Victoria Frerichs
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