Gene Wolfe’s Book of Days includes stories related, sometimes loosely, to each of eighteen major and minor holidays celebrated in the United States. Lincoln’s birthday, for example, is commemorated with the short story “How the Whip Came Back.” Set in the near future, the story describes the reintroduction of slavery as a means of controlling overcrowding in prisons. “Of Relays and Roses,” a Valentines Day story, concerns the development of a supereffective computer dating ser-vice. Earth Day is marked by “Beautyland,” about a man who becomes a millionaire by selling the right to kill the country’s last remaining wildlife to the highest bidder. “The Blue Mouse,” a story for Armed Forces Day, tells how a soldier who believes himself to be above killing learns to fight, not for his country but for his pet mice. “The War Beneath the Tree” describes a battle between last year’s Christmas toys and their usurpers.
Thematically, these stories are only loosely related, though a number of themes are prevalent: the emptiness and impersonality of an industrialized civilization, the search for meaning and identity, and the thin veneer of emotional control. In the Arbor Day story, “Paul’s Treehouse,” for example, the world is rocked by riots that threaten suburban enclaves. The protagonist, Morris, converts his fear into aggression against his son, who has ensconced himself in a treehouse. As a mob gathers outside his own...
(The entire section is 517 words.)