An Ode of a Different Sort
Ode is defined as a lyric poem in the form of an address to a particular subject, often elevated in style or manner and written in varied or irregular meter. I'm using this word somewhat differently, because I think it's perfect to describe Nicole Given Kurtz's Weird Western story collection, Sisters of the Wild Sage. This engaging anthology is a collection of stories by Nicole published over the years in various anthologies. Gathered together they become a homage to Southwest America, particularly New Mexico. Nicole spent a few years living in this state and was obviously moved by its scenery and culture. The result is an anthology that captures the essence of the region through the lens of Weird Fiction.
The book begins with the story Revival, which for me sets a tone that carried me throughout the rest of the book. The story is a blend of spirituality and emotion and a perfect choice as the first story of the book. Nicole's main characters in all her stories are Black or Native, giving you the perspective of those that have come to the region seeking a better life and those who have lived in the region since their beginning attempting to hang on to their culture. The 'weirdness' of the stories derives from the spirituality of each culture adapting to the challenges of this beautiful yet harsh region.
The stories progress through time as well. They begin in the past, mainly describing the migration of Black families from the South seeking a better life in the West yet encountering some of the same challenges they thought they left behind. They also include stories of the Native cultures struggling against the incursion of new cultures on their lands, people bent on changing the region and its people. From there they move into the present as well as into the future. But what stays constant throughout these amazing stories is the landscape. Reading Nicole's descriptions had me eagerly planning a visit to the state so I could experience the world with the words.
I use the word ode to describe this collection of stories because that is how it felt to me. These stories, with their variety of magic, spirit and engaging characters meshed into a poetic homage to a land and the people who inhabited it from its beginnings and the people who migrated there, told from Nicole's gifted handling of the weird which brings these struggles to sharper focus. Sisters of The Wild Sage is currently available for pre-order. I suggest you get your copy, especially if you're a fan of weird tales. You won't be disappointed.