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Jung's People

by Kay Green

(Elastic Press, £5.00, 143 pages, paperback, published January 2004.)

Review by Lawrence Osborn

This is a quiet, unpretentious first collection of stories by Kay Green. It brings together fifteen of her short stories written over as many years. The nod to Carl Jung in the title, cover blurb and epigraph is rather misleading. (There is cover scanprecious little that is distinctively Jungian in this collection and at least one of the stories seems to owe more to Freud than Jung.) Nevertheless, these stories are awash with symbolism and dreamlike twists to normal reality.

The collection begins well with 'Mokey' -- a tale in which a split personality is knit together again not by psychoanalysis but by witchcraft. As well as being one of the better written stories in the collection, 'Mokey' also does a good job of setting out the recurring themes of this collection.

Three of the stories ('Time to Learn', 'Love Hurts' and 'Internal Combustion') contain clear science fictional elements. However, these always remain incidental to Green's main interests in psychological and gender issues. None of these forays into the fringes of science fiction seemed to work particularly well.

The same might be said of her one attempt to write a traditional fantasy. 'Glorious Peace' is brutal and depressing; its characters are little more than ciphers; and it contains one of the least convincing fictional prophecies I have ever had the misfortune to read.

The use and abuse of magic is a recurring theme in these stories. In 'Facing the Dark' Green plays with the symbolism of tarot cards and a pact with the devil. What she produces is a dark tale overburdened with symbolism and characters. 'Old Magic in a New Age' is a cautionary tale about the dangers of New Age magic from the perspective of a woman brought up as a traditional wiccan who concludes by thanking the Goddess 'for a last-minute deliverance from New Age serfdom'.

Several of the stories are hard to classify beyond the fact that they all demonstrate Green's ability to offer new perspectives to her readers. For example, 'Good Mother Gosse' begins with a refreshing take on the folk character of Mother Goose and segues into reflections from a pantomime Dame before, sadly, losing itself in obscurity. Another offering of this kind, 'Dispensers', is more of a vignette than a story, expanding on the title as a description of parents as seen from the perspective of an infant. 'The Eye of the Beholder' explores the gaze of the other. The gaze of a lover upon a young woman evokes the passion within her.

In 'Newman's Bible', she offers an alternative reading of the Adam and Eve myth in which they, rather than God, are the creators. Indeed it is Adam who creates God from clay (shades of Feuerbach and Freud rather than Jung). Suddenly in the concluding paragraphs this story is revealed as the work of one A.A. Newman who is attempting to write a new Bible and who appears to be pathologically afraid of vampires (why else the cross, the stake-like pencils and the garlic-oil on the door- and window-frames?).

Religion is also central to 'Challenging Myth'. This time a young prince and an old man meet under a (bo?) tree. No prizes for guessing who they are. When their conversation is over the young man is the tree is the snake is the old man is the earth.

'Butterfly Wings' is at least three stories in one. The butterfly wings of the title are presumably the mythical butterfly wings in an Amazonian rainforest that, according to chaos theory, can cause a hurricane half way around the world. In this case, three slightly changed beginnings lead to three very different fates for Bekir, the protagonist of the story.

The collection concludes with 'Circaidy Gregory', a green morality tale. While the story itself is quite well told, I'm afraid the moral limps badly, namely, that our response to the economic forces driving the environmental crisis should be one of 'knowledgeable disregard'.

Kay Green has some good ideas and, overall, she writes well. Unfortunately, too much of the time she allows her fascination with symbolism and complex structures to overwhelm character and storytelling.

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