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Invisible Pleasures

Mary Frances Zambreno. American Fantasy. $25
244p. ISBN: 0-9610352-4-2

book coverEach of the eighteen stories of Invisible Pleasures focuses on females who face adversity. A fabulous cover painting, Symphony Fantastique by Douglas Klauba, balances a woman between the light and the dark fantastic and proves highly appropriate as the stories turn toward the shadows more often than light. Zambreno leaves her most indelible impression when indulging her wickedly dark wit in stories like "Aunt Concetta's Cat" (in which three children learn some lessons from an elderly auntie and a cat that always comes back) and "The Last One Left" (where the tables are turned on a rapist). She even skewers authorhood itself in "Watching Goldfish Die". The author has a doctorate in medieval literature and several of the stories are historical fantasy. In "A Craving for Oysters" a noblewoman calls on the ghost of her dead husband for aid. A Saxon woman seeks to stop bloodshed between her father and husband and makes a supremely difficult decision after consulting an old wise woman in "Choices" Even a sword and sorceress tale like "Luck of the City" is comes out a cut above the usual when adventure is melded with historical detail, in this case -- sewers. There's often more nuance in a Zambreno story than her straightforward style at first suggests. She plays with the themes of a woman's work never being done and the importance of family and generational ties -- and the lack of them in modern life -- in "The Ghost in the Summer Kitchen." The mini-mystery "The Little Girl in the Picture," in which two Catholic schoolgirls uncover the joys of primary source research, offers a rewarding if not intellectually demanding read. Many of the tales in this debut collection were first written for young readers and Zambreno's work, although never challenging, is almost always enjoyable. -- Paula Guran (Originally published in Fantasy #2, Spring 2006)