Tananarive Due takes fairly standard-issue speculative fiction scenarios - a ghost story, a zombie story, a pandemic story - and makes them come aliveTananarive Due takes fairly standard-issue speculative fiction scenarios - a ghost story, a zombie story, a pandemic story - and makes them come alive with closely observed details and characters that feel real. These stories don’t treat the ordinary world as a blank slate, but recognize that it is the source of horrors both vast and intimate. Her characters, most of whom are African-American and Latinx, encounter the fantastic in the context of real-world troubles of all shapes and sizes: the daily challenge of parenting, the slow-motion tragedy of watching a loved one die of cancer, the crushing impact of abuse, the terror and precariousness of state-sponsored racism.
The standout stories for me were the title novella, in which a young boy’s ghost-hunting unearths a tragedy tied to an early-20th century race riot; “Free Jim’s Mine,” and “Trial Day,” set in the eras of slavery and Jim Crow respectively, which reckon with the terrible personal and moral toll of surviving under those systems; and the three linked stories “Removal Order,” “Herd Immunity,” and “Carriers,” which form a trilogy following one woman’s path through the wake of a devastating flu pandemic. “Danger Word,” which doesn’t shy away from exploring just how traumatic a zombie apocalypse would be to live through, is also memorable. When Due tangles with the real darkness at the heart of the American experience, the results are haunting.
I've made these stories sound pretty heavy, but they're also written with a light touch and suspense and reveals in just the right places to make them speed by. Adrenaline carries you through and the hammer only drops afterward.
Throughout, Due is interested in the impact of her scenarios on individual characters’ psyches and emotions, and places those human elements front and center as the fantastic or science fictional unfolds in the background. At times this leaves the speculative elements feeling a bit underbaked or overly predictable, but at their best these stories take hold in a good way....more