ISBN: 0688086616

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Brief Reviews - Fiction
by Elizabeth Anthony

BEFORE YOU'VE TAKEN spring cleaning too far and wiped winter's revenant-rich dust off the mantel, prop this Skelton in your parlour chair and bask in the last of the dark season's haunting diversions: Higgledy-Piggledy (Arsenal Pulp, 160 pages, $13.95 paper). Robin Skelton here offers 15 stories, both first person and singular, of laid-back wizardry; his own "Believe It or Not" with, as he calls her, Dame Serendipity as muse. His utterly simple (if addictedly pun-riddled) language and conventional storytelling style are perfect foils for the strange twists that characterize his tales: portraits and windows that open not on space, but time; a subversive typewriter receptive to the dictates of id, not ego; a love match made in the heart of dream, with "no key" - just who is dreaming whom, we never quite know. In the end, one has the curiously invigorating - if uneasy - feeling that time, space, and the great chain of being are most cunningly accordioned: that who and where you are depends on just how fate blithely deigns to pleat them. In Skelton's schema, the score will inevitably be played "higgledy-piggledy."

There is nothing particularly outstanding about these tales, but they pleasingly, almost archaically, entertain. Skelton is at his best when working his sleight of hand upon the perfidiously mundane. In "The Break," he spins a monologue around the life of Christ, a mythic drum too grand against which to throw the divining sticks of his parlour game. He excels "in house" and locally, poking at the tensile surface of the membrane between the worlds we live in: the porthole between kitchen and dining room, or the ritual row between brothers that, temporarily at least, bests death.

One caveat: don't read these stories all at once. Skelton's madness is methodical enough that the twists soon grow transparent, and the reader becomes desensitized to surprise. Is that how we, bleary-eyed, come to coexist (if we do) with such wily everyday sorceries as these?


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