Unlocking the Air
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ms. Hen likes science fiction, and is especially interested in women's science fiction writers right now. Even though this collection of short stories would be considered magical realism, it is what Ms. Hen enjoys. These stories are strange and wacky. These are the type that inspired Ms. Hen to want to be a writer in the first place: the idea that a story can be anything a writer wants. Ms. Hen doesn’t think writers try to write like this anymore, and if they do, the writing in uninspired. In MFA programs, the instructors try to get rid of the desire to write genre fiction like this out of the students, but Ms. Hen wants to try to go back to being a dreamer and writing things that are bizarre.
The first story in the collection is “Half Past Four,” which is an odd collection of stories in itself, about characters who have the same name and are in different situations. It took a few sections for Ms. Hen to figure out what was happening. The names of the characters, Ella, Ann, Stephen, and Theodore are in different stories and are different people in each, but they all have to do with families and relationships, and how dysfunctional people’s lives can become.
“Spoons in the Basement,” is about a woman, Georgia, who discovers coffee spoons in a closet in her house that she didn’t know were there. She doesn’t know the history of the house and who could have left them. After that, she finds a section of the house where people are living that she did not know about. This story made Ms. Hen think it’s an allegory, that there are things we don’t know about in our lives, that are underneath everything, that could either be upsetting or comforting to us. Georgia accepts that there are two nice young women living in the basement, but she doesn’t like that a middle-aged couple are living there as well. It shows that some people have innate prejudice; there shouldn’t be anyone living in a person’s house that is unknown to them, and Georgia should have been upset about all of them.
The story that haunted Ms. Hen the most was, “Olders,” which is about a woman whose husband gets hurt in a battle, and who needs to recover. The doctor comes to help him, but he is working on finding out the secret of the island. The injured man is dying and is turning into a tree. When the native people of the island die, they transform into trees. The man’s wife is not from the island, so she is not like this. Ms. Hen thinks this is a creative story, the kind that she is interested in writing. The tree people made Ms. Hen imagine what it would be like to die and become a tree. When a person is dead, nothing matters anymore, but if we become trees, we could die again, or we could get hurt if someone chopped us down. The tree people could suffer as trees, as we suffer in life.
Ms. Hen recommends this collection of short stories to anyone who is willing to go out on a limb and read a strange book, to stretch the imagination to where it is able to go, and to reach to the outer limits of our minds. Ms. Hen is a quirky hen, and she likes to be around kindred spirits who like the same things.