Playground of Lost Toys
Editors, Colleen Anderson and Ursula Pflug
Published by Exile Editions, December 2015
Contributing Authors: Chris Kuriata, Joe Davies, Catherine MacLeod, Kate Story, Meagan Whan, Candas Jane Dorsey, Rati Mehrotra, Nathan Adler, Rhonda Eikamp, Robert Runté, Linda DeMeulemeester, Kevin Cockle, Claude Lalumière, Dominik Parisien, dvsduncan, Christine Daigle, Melissa Yuan-Innes, Shane Simmons, Lisa Carreiro, Karen Abrahamson, Geoff Cole and Alex C. Renwick.
Where better to start understanding the ways in which the child is mother to the woman than digging that old toy out of the sandbox, perfect metaphor for the subconscious. The stories in Playground of Lost Toys reflect the other minds that parallel play with adult imagination: magic realism, horror and surrealism, where extreme child consciousness is formed in the interaction of good and evil, the light and shadows that play on nursery walls.
This collection, a gathering of diverse writers, many of them fresh out of fairy tale, may have surprised the editors with its imaginative intensity and the realisation that childhood is an earthquake zone with cracks that swallow the innocent. The acquisition of language, spells and nursery rhymes that vanquish fear and bad fairies can save them; and toys are amulets that protect children from loneliness, abuse, and acts of god. This is what these writers found when they dug in the sand. Perhaps they even surprised themselves.
Eleventh in Exile‘s anthology series, this collection is further evidence that storytelling, binding generation to generation, brother to sister, mother to daughter and grandmother to grandson, is the glue of culture. Harmonious dialogue, sharing narrative, is as essential to a healthy family as it is to a healthy world. In the common gestalts in stories from every world culture, we discover the one in the many.
In “The Ghost Rattle,” one of several stories in which magic transforms reality, two grave robbers discover that objects left on graves meant for the other side camp, across the river from this life, are sacred and have a power beyond ownership. The story comes out of an oral tradition where ancient archetypes are kept relevant by contemporary re-telling. The new generation of aboriginal writers and visual artists like Kwakwakwa’wakw Chief Rande Cook, revitalize the relationship between “real” and spirit worlds by making the idiom contemporary.
This is a cautionary tale. Nathan Adler’s adolescent Beavis and Butthead cannot hide from the light after they desecrate a sacred place. The references are current, but the lesson is timeless.
Coils of sapphire and electric jade infiltrated his room, like flashes from a television screen. Except his television wasn’t on. The flicker formed a secondary phenomenon, as if it were a miniature three-dimensional version of the larger aurora outside.
The book is advertised as speculative fiction. This is the direction of several recent Exile anthologies, a direct appeal to a new generation of readers who might yet be lured away from their virtual devices, a different kind of reading. Re-discovery of the empirical book could still charm a generation accustomed to sound bites and twitter lite. Short fiction is a perfect genre to restore the prodigal reader to the pleasure of reading real print, turning real pages and smelling real paper.
Experimentation with language, as in “Wheatiesfield in Fall,” life as a log with breathing space between minimal entries, by Geoffrey W. Cole, serves as a clock in the time-warped reaches of speculative fiction. In collections like this, there is room for every possibility as we are left to consider what is normal in a normal childhood.
“Show and Tell,” Kate Story’s memoir from the normal, resonates every insecure narrative reflecting in school washroom mirrors, even decades later, when two old friends reflect.
“But if you’re here, then it’s your life.” She was taking this seriously. “Multiple universes?”
“Maybe it’s not about universes, ” she proposed. “Maybe it’s a narrative like you said. Maybe it’s what you choose to remember.”
The stories in Playground of Lost Toys are all about choice. The toys, never lost because they carry on with their buried lives, are catalysts in the time travel that allows the various narrators to consider the life decisions they have made.
We choose to explore the other side because it is there. Some decide to stay and some to return and witness the peacefulness of not being, the release of anxiety. The ten-year-old child in Dominic Parisien’s “Goodbye is a Mouthful of Water” experimented with drowning, going to the deep place where life begins and ends:
“As your feet hit the bottom, a great brown cloud blossomed around you, and for a panicked moment you felt it close around your legs, its greedy maw chewing on your ankles.” and then returning from the dead, “who could not really hurt you after all, not really,” to celebrate another birthday.
On their first birthdays, Chinese boys are presented an array of toys. Whatever they choose is the direction that child’s life will take; a horse indicates a soldier, a book a scholar, a flute a musician. Thinking back to Lawrence’s life-changing “Rocking Horse Winner,” a universal favourite, we can hope for more normal and paranormal fiction with toys as the objective correlative linking child and adult real and surreal possibilities. This is the (bookbinders) glue that binds us.
Linda Rogers van Krugel
(This review has appeared elsewhere.)
Both Colleen Anderson and Ursula Pflug have been featured on Reading Recommendations previously. Linda Rogers van Krugel is a Canadian author. Her forthcoming novel, Bozuk, will be released with Exile Editions in late 2016.