I've read several of Elizabeth Hand's novels, and have always felt that they were nearly perfect... except that something always happens (like a big, supernatural blowout climax) to screw it up. The one exception, for me, before reading this, was her story:"The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon" (which you can read on her website: http://www.elizabethhand.com/bellerophone.php). Excellent story. Maybe I just like Hand's short fiction better, because this book was nearly 100% excellent.
Last Summer At Mars Hill
A teen girl has always spent her summers with her mother at a Maine spiritualist colony inhabited by eccentrics and aging hippies. However, there's a real reason why 'believers' have congregated at Mars Hill. The story effectively and sensitively deals with the human struggle against mortality and our ambiguous feelings about death.
The Erl King
Meshes myths of Faerie with the 1960's legends of selling your soul for rock & roll... the sins of the fathers are visited upon the next generation. Spooky,horrific, poetic.
The 'avenging feminist' aspect of this was a bit much for me. However, just on the level of it being a tale of Circe incarnated in the modern day, it was good. However, it didn't need to all be spelled out in the end. We got it, already.
My least favorite piece in the book, but that's just my personal preferences. I don't tend to like the 'one-sided conversation' narrative device, and I'm not intrigued by the myth of Elvis, dead, undead, or otherwise.
In The Month Of Athyr
I loved this science-fiction story. However, well before the end, I said, "Hmm... this is very much like Connie Willis' 'All My Darling Daughters.'" At the end, Hand states that she was inspired to write this by that very story. You've got a dystopian scenario where a religious cult has convinced everyone to reject their natural gender and separate. Genetically engineered bird-women have been created for sexual gratification. Ethical wrong-nesses pile one on top of the other.
A nicely understated tale of Satan and apocalypse in an office block...
Not so long ago, I read an anthology entitled 'Wild Women.' (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1112980.Wild_Women) It was a nice concept, but many of the stories didn't really fit into the concept. This story, on the other hand, would have fit in perfectly. Horrific, ambiguous, but somehow liberating...
Snow On Sugar Mountain
Ancient Native American shapeshifting magic and a dying, underappreciated astronaut. Two things you might not expect to find together. It works remarkably well, in this wistful, touching, bittersweet story.
On the Town Route
A girl drives out with her maybe-boyfriend on his ice-cream truck route. She sees him give out free ice cream to the backwoods folk, and is struck by their abject poverty. But he says she just doesn't understand. The myth of Demeter and Persephone weaves in... Not my favorite of the collection, but it's quite good.
The Boy in the Tree
Truly creepy tale where autistic children are somehow modified and used for empathic therapy... except that this therapy seems to have a better-than-average result of driving the subject to suicide. Deeply weird, very disturbing, about the abuses of power... and the myths that run through our subconscious.
Prince of Flowers
Straight-up horror story about a woman doing inventory at a natural history museum, who happens to be a bit of a kleptomaniac. But she steals some artifacts she really shouldn't have...