The Complete Butcher’s Tales

“It is an idiosyncratic selection, and completely eclectic,” wrote Ursula LeGuin of THE BOOK OF FANTASY, edited by Jorge Luis Borges and others in 1940. The same can be said of Rikki Ducornet’s latest book, the splendidly written and mischievously titled THE COMPLETE BUTCHER’S TALES, as complete a sourcebook of the fantastic as one is likely to find—something of a postmodern version of Borges’ anthology written by someone only pretending, in typically Borgesian fashion, to be its editor. The fifty-five tales, some just a dozen of so lines, most only two to three pages, pay homage, in various ways and to varying degrees, to a host of fantasists, from Donald Barthelme and Borges, Angela Carter and Robert Coover, to Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, Nikolai Gogol and Lewis Carroll. There is a nod in the direction of William March (in a reworking of THE BAD SEED) and another to Gertrude Stein (“F*a*i*r*y F*i*n*g*e*r” playing on, or with, Stein’s TENDER BUTTONS). Ducornet camps it up in these deliberately overblown tales of the parodically grotesque and arabesque. Taking on not merely the full range of fantasy literature but all that is either pretentious or puritanical, she proves herself a comic master of the subversive imagination, brilliantly imitative yet wildly inventive.

There is not a poisoned apple in the collection. “Thrift,” for example, appropriately the shortest at barely more than one hundred words, tells of “chosen infants” taken from their mothers and tortured every day of their brief lives. Once they die, their grotesquely misshapen bodies are thrown to the dogs, the police dogs that is: “Nothing on the planet is ever wasted.” The story is, of course, a tease, although a disconcerting one, only as morbid as it is moral, a little recycling project involving LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” “Voyage to Ultima Azul, Chapter 79,” which closes the collection, works in a different way and to a different end, teasing only in the baldest, purplest way possible, the sexual subtext of space comics, STAR TREK, and the like. At story’s (and voyage’s) end, the sleeping travelers awake, their dreams stir and blood flows, “already inventing a new language for Desire.” Playful, parodic, slyly perverse, Rikki Ducornet is the perfect alternative to the post-postmodern dullness of so much American neorealism.