Helen Oyeyemi’s books are so hard to review. They depend so much on atmosphere, on the slow build up of tension. And, in the case of White Is for Witching, a nightmare house that kind of eats people. (I hardly call that a spoiler since the sales copy gives it away.) I’ve seen the word haunting used a lot in regards to this book and I can’t disagree.
The prose is lyrical, intentional, and a bit strange in places. This is a beautifully crafted book, with the narration sometimes changing midsentence (which I think is accomplished in quite a clever way), and sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s speaking until a paragraph or so in. I have yet to digest the racial tension into cogent thoughts, though, or the importance of Miranda and Eliot being twins (although that felt less imperative to the plot than twins did in Icarus Girl). And I’m reminded of Turn of the Screw, but perhaps in atmosphere only and that edge of What is real? But something about the ghosts from that speaks to the idea of ghosts in the Silver house, and how it seems that Miranda herself has been consumed by the ghosts of Lily and Jennifer and Anna, and above all, the house.
I finished this just before I went to sleep and let me tell you, I don’t recommend that. I woke up several times in the night in quiet terror of the shifting half-light from my window.
Really, three posts is a lot to churn out, especially after drinking so many mimosas at brunch, which is why it’s a good thing that I saved What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi for last, because HOLY SHIT I AM SO IN LOVE WITH THIS BOOK. (Also I literally finished it this morning, and since I’m trying to babble about books in the order I read them, it just makes sense.)
I’d read some Oyeyemi before, enough to like her but not be actively obsessed. Part of my problem is that I started with Mr. Fox and I just didn’t have enough footing with Oyeyemi to have faith and patience. Even now, after reading more of her work, that one still seems way more ambitious and boundary pushing than her other books. I’m really excited to give it another read. (And, looking back at my GR review: wow I had a lot of thoughts.) But then I read Boy, Snow, Bird (GR review here, if interested) and was like oh I get it now. And then I didn’t read anything more by her until my friend was like OYEYEMI OYEYEMI OYEYEMI HERE READ ICARUS GIRL and it was like DAMN IT I HAVE WASTED SO MUCH TIME IN AN OYEYEMI-LESS LIFE.
So. You know. I’m into this, now. And What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is just, well, I really hate the phrase tour de force but it is fucking appropriate. This collection of short stories is elegant, beautifully written, the best kind of off-kilter, and overlapping just so. The threads skip in and out of stories, main characters from one showing up as side characters in another, and all delightfully weird. Magical realism done by a master. How do I pick a favorite? It’s like asking me to pick a favorite dessert. (I have a lot of dessert thoughts too. Like, how can I be expected to choose between strawberry-rhubarb crisp and a really perfect yellow cake with dark chocolate icing? I can’t. Give them both to me with a side of just-baked chocolate chip cookies.)
The titles alone are just swoon-worthy. “‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea”? “A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society”??? “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think”????? But each story is deliciously unsettling, not even skirting that edge of weird but diving right in so that everything just seems normal. I love it. In this particular moment, I think the story I loved the most is “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” The puppets are simply perfectly surprising and the plot unfolds with such complexity. Rahda and Myrna get along and don’t in such a unique way. Actually, that’s a fair point about all the relationships in this book: they develop in such unique ways. There is such effortless diversity of sexuality and families and race and personality and it all sticks the landing.