Tanzer, Molly. Rumbullion and Other Liminal Libations. Egaeus Press (October 28, 2013). Hardcover: 256 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0957160644.
Full Disclosure: I consider Molly Tanzer a friend. As one of the editors of Fungi, I actually acquired one of the stories that graces this collection. But, for as long as I’ve been her friend, I’ve also been a fan of Ms. Tanzer’s work. While I might be willing to say nice things about her just because of our association, I’d be happy to say nice things about her work, regardless.
Rumbullion is her second collection, following on the heels of her genealogical study of the accursed and debased Calipash family, A Pretty Mouth, which was one of the best books I read in 2012. Rumbullion is less focused than that esteemed tome, and more like a normal collection, if the word “normal” can be applied to a book containing stories about John Wilmot, Herbert West, anthropomorphic cats (and other animals), and Bacchae, to name just a few.
First off, it’s a gorgeous book. The folks at Egaues Press have made a name for themselves producing attractive hardcovers and this one’s no exception, from the endpapers to the woodcuts that illustrate each tale.
Of course, the major draw here is the title novella, the book’s only original piece, which also accounts for more than half of its page count. Described by the author herself as “Rashomon with fops,” it tells the tale of the fatal events of an ill-fated dinner party, as recounted through letters and statements from different guests, each of whom bring their own take on the evening. It begins strange and gets quite a bit stranger. The dangling threads never come together completely, though the tapestry that is glimpsed is all the more disturbing for its obfuscation. It’s Molly at her best and may be my favorite thing in the book, if that honor doesn’t go to the story I acquired for Fungi, “Tubby McMungus, Fat from Fungus,” a tale that she co-wrote with Jesse Bullington and one of the weirdest tales I’ve ever read.
As I said, Rumbullion lacks the tight focus of A Pretty Mouth. Instead of a themed account of one family, traveling in reverse order down through the ages, it’s a collection of largely unrelated stories, though tied together by some common themes. Of course there’s eros apparent here, though less than you might expect, coming from Molly’s other work. (In spite of its being sans much in the way of erotic content, I think I can safely say that fans of the Calipash family will find much to like in “Herbert West in Love.”) There’s also a theme of anthropomorphic animals, as brilliantly represented by the well-chosen woodcut that serves as the book’s cover. Anthropomorphism shows up in one form or another in “In Sheep’s Clothing,” “Tubby McMungus,” “Go, Go, Go, Said the Byakhee,” and “The Poison-Well,” which is an out-and-out fable in the vein of Aesop, though with a typically Tanzer twist. Also tying the stories together are the “liminal libations,” thematically appropriate cocktail recipes devised by Ms. Tanzer herself, that accompany each one. As I’m not much of a tippler myself, I’ll have to leave it to more bacchanalian readers to let me know how the drinks go down, but they serve as wonderful thematic end notes for the tales.