Breaking the boundaries between literary and genre fiction, GregoryBernard Banks’ Phoenix Tales: Stories of Death and Life is a stunningcollection of short stories that confronts the meaning of life and deathwith beautiful bravery. Part science fiction, part philosophy, with alittle horror thrown in, this collection should be on everyone’s readinglist.
Each tale is a wonder in and of itself, and combined into a collection,creates a dramatic and insightful tool with which to uncover our ownthoughts and fears on the subject matter.
Banks opens the collection with “Escape Velocity”; a telling andfrighteningly pertinent story of the price of heroic life saving effortswhen the government, not the people themselves, decide if they should beallowed to die. With “Touched,”he delivers a futuristic Pinocchio taleinvolving a genetically enhanced boy who learns what it means to behuman. While the stories have a strong science fiction bent, the readeralways feels they are in a familiar place.
“An Elysian Dream” tells the story of a young woman who quicklydiscovers that paradise without freedom is nothing more than a prettierversion of hell. A man learns it’s never too late to make amends withthe past in “Home Going.” In the hands of another writer, these storiesmay have come out as either empty nihilist tales or shallowreaffirmations. But Banks has a knack of taking what might otherwise beconsidered morose story concepts and turning them into uplifting,insightful, and poignant life lessons.
With “Living with Mrs. Klase,” an abused woman and her children find Christmas with a retired farmer and his wife, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. “The Soul Man,” a story involving a person whoseems to be the savior of abused children, is part flash fiction, partpoetry, and part modern myth.
There are seventeen stories in this collection and every one of themelicited strong emotions in me as I read them. These are incrediblestories that need to be read.