As I was reading "Errantry: Strange Stories," the phone rang. I answered it and whispered "Hello?"
"Why are you whispering?" asked my friend.
"I'm reading this really bizarre book of short stories," I said. That was my short answer. But the long answer is this: I'm whispering because as I was reading Hand's stories in my quiet house on a cold December day, the threads of my reality frayed a bit along the edges and it would take more than a telephone's ring for me to pull myself back together. I'm whispering because I'm scared to disturb the intricate and delicate worlds that Hand has created in this collection of stories that alternately draw me in and scare me away.
Hand has written across many genres, including science fiction and mystery, but this collection cannot easily fit into any one box. She leads the reader lightly down a thickly wooded trail between disparate universes littered with loss, despair, spiritual pilgrimages and restless characters.
In every story the natural world gains the upper hand -- sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly. In "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon," a "green flare" shoots up from the ocean to envelop a model plane making its inaugural flight, as its creator seeks solace by rewriting history. Jeffrey in "Near Zennor" seeks out the fogou, an underground structure in the Cornish countryside, in order to follow in his dead wife's footsteps -- with unsettling results.
In "Hungerford Bridge," a story that could easily double as a painting, a creature that transcends time lives beneath a London bridge and enchants its very select audience. "It was green -- a brilliant, jewel-like green ... feathers shot through with iridescent mauve and amethyst as it moved. Its eyes were the rich damson of a pansy's inner petals ... its snout ... the same deep purple as its eyes."
It's no surprise to find that an Icelander makes an appearance in "Winter's Wife," since Hand's writing is so obviously and richly influenced by Iceland's storytelling culture and its inhabitants' firm belief in the Huldufolk, "the hidden people." Many characters throughout "Errantry" are tucked away, just out of sight but still integral to each story.
In "The Far Shore," on the precipice between this life and another, "Philip stared at the darkness that hid the lodge, that hid everything and everyone he had ever known. Life did not work like this, love did not work like this. Philip knew that. Only stories did, where wonder trumped despair and desire overcame death."
Meganne Fabrega is a freelance writer and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.