Of all the Early Reviewers books I’ve received through LibraryThing, my copy of John Crowley’s And Go Like This was most like a bound proof, rather than a finished book. The author’s foreword is only an excerpt, and the acknowledgements page says only “TK” (i.e., to come). However, with one exception, all of the dozen stories here are previously published, and so there’s no reason to think that the body of the book is incomplete–though it still shows some widows and orphans in its page layouts.
I had previously read the stories “In the Tom Mix Museum,” “And Go Like This,” and “This Is Our Town” in the earlier and shorter collection Totalitopia. Each of these is a sound tale with Crowley’s reliably beautiful prose, but none of them would necessarily be motive to pursue this volume. “And Go Like This” has more than a whiff of shaggy dog about it, while “This Is Our Town” is highly nostalgic all the way to its closing evocation of Julian of Norwich. “In the Tom Mix Museum” is similarly a child’s-perspective confection but only a one-page vignette.
Several of the longer stories in the volume, “The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines” along with the triptych of stories that make up “Mt. Auburn Street,” center their attention on aging, reminiscence, and disability. Crowley has certainly had some practice with these themes, and his handling of them here is engaging and deeply humane.
The three stories that I found most gratifying were suitably placed at the end of the book. “Flint and Mirrors” is framed as a fantasy of the Renaissance by Fellowes Kraft, the author of the nested fictions within Crowley’s Aegypt novels. It features Doctor Dee briefly, but it centers on the Irish chieftain Hugh O’Neill. It evokes the paradoxes of empire as well as a persistence of magic that reminded me even more of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell than it did of the Dee material in Aegypt.
“Conversation Hearts” seems to have some strong autobiographical inflections, with a principal character who shares his given name with the author John. It is somewhat metafictional, nesting a juvenile fantasy in the adult literary short story, but connecting them through theme and moral. Even more autobiographical is the final story “Anosognosia,” the only one to appear for the first time in this book. It is dedicated to Paul Park, whose “Roumanian” fantasy Crowley had praised in an essay for the Boston Review (reprinted in Totalitopia). Crowley noted the autobiographical features of Park’s portal fantasy and admired the way that it gave higher ontological status to the magic-imbued alternate history than it did to the one that resembled our quotidian world. In “Anosognosia” Crowley turns the same trick, giving the protagonist John C. an awareness of his two parallel lives and a choice between them. This story also connected for me with the alternative history of Kim Stanely Robinson’s “Lucky Strike” and the author-as-character twists of Sarah Pinsker’s “And Then There Were (N-One).” With significant parts of it in the form of psychological counselor’s notes and session transcripts, it also recalled to me the shifting realities of Doris Lessing’s Briefing for a Descent into Hell.
On the whole I enjoyed this book, though not as much as any of Crowley’s novels.