The legend says that Molly Tanzer was born on a starless night in the middle of a battlefield, and that when the sun rose, the ground was carpeted with detached limbs and excavated fundaments. In the middle of this lay a babe, swaddled in black satin, attended by leather-masked beasts with hands of stone and iron. As the sun flew high, reedy pipes wailed and the emissaries of a cult that had long awaited her arrival rode thither out of the east, and strange patterns formed in the dust in the sky.
Now, the legend may overstate the situation, but there’s no question that my friend Molly has written a badass collection of stories with A Pretty Mouth, fit to jump into the ring and duke it out with any other collection out there, whether Nine Stories or Bob’s Iguana Tales. Her stomping grounds? History, tentacles, skullduggery, and sex. She brings the past to life in stories populated with complex, changeable humans–no buttoned-down, ghostly, shadows, but plotting, scheming, friendly people as likely to invoke dark gods as they are to suckle octopi or go to the beach. Or all three.
To dilate too much on the individual stories and titular novella of this collection, founded on the decadence of the family Calipash, would be to rob you of much joy, Reader, but a few comments seem in order. “A Spotted Trouble at Dolor-on-the-Downs” is a riff on Wodehouse’s most famous characters, as seen in the looking glass, and having read it, you’ll always wonder a bit about what lurks beneath the exterior of the world’s most unflappable valet. “The Hour of the Tortoise” is a fiction within a fiction, involving Gothic trappings, strange alliances, and a tortoise that is not what it seems. “The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins” is Molly’s best-known story to date, having appeared twice previously, winning her fans and admirers with its blending of 18th century literary conventions and robust helpings of spite, vice, incest, and madness. “A Pretty Mouth,” the novella that forms the backbone of the collection, is a glorious romp through school in the 17th century, following the eldritch/picaresque adventures of distinctly roguish schoolboys, whose interests range from the arcane to the erotic. Finally, “Damnatio Memoriae” takes another look at the Romans in Britain, a subject well-loved by various Golden Age authors of weird fiction, turning the usual story inside out before inverting it.
Having said it already in more flowery format, I’ll now say simply that Molly Tanzer is the real deal. A Pretty Mouth is a weighty and strange collection, and one that promises to repay more than one reading. From adroit turns of phrase to morally complex characters to simply good stories, this book has much to offer. I weed my bookshelves on occasion, sending away those that have grown stale or faint, and I do not expect that will ever happen to my copy of A Pretty Mouth.
A Pretty Mouth is available from Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, or from your local independent bookseller. If any of what I’ve written here intrigues you, please consider picking this collection up for yourself for the holidays, or asking your local library to order a copy.