Curses, Inc. and Other Stories

Vivian Vande Velde

Harcourt Brace. $16.00
(paper $4.50)

Bill keeps trying to curse another kid at school using an online service he found on the Web -- Curses, Inc. -- but the curses keep backfiring.

Abigail Brewster has spent fourteen years perfecting a spell to bring her son Hugh back to life; now Hugh must "repay" the man who killed him or die a second time forever.

"Let this be a lesson to you!" These are the first words a young man remembers and nothing else; he has no idea who he is or where he is from, and neither does any one else.

Vivian Vande Velde is always very good at pulling off ethical dilemmas and unexpected plot twists that actually work. The ten short stories of Curses, Inc. may share a common theme of witches and curses, but no two are alike, and the book is in no danger of being too much of a good thing. The overall tone is admittedly a little dark, given the wry and wonderful sense of humor Vande Velde has shown in her other work. "Curses, Inc." and "Boy Witch" are bright sparks of humor here; the other eight are serious, even if they end well. But then, the title is Curses....

It's possible to get into what I consider the strengths and weaknesses of the individual stories, but this are mostly a matter of person preference regarding a technique she chooses to use. I'm not sure, for instance, that as a short story "The Witch's Son" should have three alternating points of view, but that's what she has done. The story "Curses, Inc.," on the other hand, talks down, ever so slightly, to a reader who might not be familiar with the Internet or the Web (are there such readers, these days?); such condescension is not a problem Vande Velde usually exhibits.

Vande Velde also provides an amusing introduction about her book titles and an afterword describing the inspiration behind each story. Brief glimpses like this of an author are always very interesting. Apparently this is the second short story collection she's created using the working title "A Witch's Stew," and both times the title has been changed (the earlier book was Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird). Who knows, she says, maybe she'll try a third time and get yet another book out of it?

Three of these stories in Curses, Inc. -- "Cypress Swamp Granny," "Lost Soul," and "Past Sunset" -- previously appeared elsewhere. The other seven are original to this collection. Vande Velde says this was a deliberate choice, because she did not think a book entirely of previously published stories would work (I'm not sure why). On the one hand, this is frustrating because I know she has a few stories out there that I have not been able to find and read. On the other hand, I'm greedy enough to want all the short stories of hers I can get, so I welcome the new ones in Curses, Inc. And I can hope she'll put together another collection in a couple of years, with another mix of reprints and originals, maybe using that "A Witch's Stew" title she mentioned....


This review copyright 2000 by Wendy Morris

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