Review: “Skin Deep Magic,” Craig Laurance Gidney

Pros: Beautiful, magical stories!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Craig Laurance Gidney’s Skin Deep Magic: Short Fiction is a most excellent collection of magical short stories centered around, primarily, black women. Content note for slurs, suicide, and brief sexual material. A couple of stories include gay characters.

Some stories are very brief slices-of-life. “Psychometry, or Gone with the Dust” is one such–we get a brief glimpse into the life of Margo. She cleans up the homes of dead people, and sometimes gets impressions off of objects she finds there. This particular house has a collection of rather racist items. “Zora’s Destiny” involves Zora, who goes to reputed witch Hattie for a headache cure for her mother, and gets her fortune read. It feels like the first chapter in a novel that I’d like to read.

Transformation is a repeating theme in this book. “Sapling” sees young Mabel start to come into her own. She meets a very odd man who inhabits a park near her home, and then she starts to change. “Sugardaddy” introduces us to Tasha, who meets another strange man no one else can see, and like Mabel, starts to change into something… else.

“Lyes” sees Sheri writing a thesis on the images of African Americans in advertising. When some of the women from her ads start to come to life and are determined to make over her life, she has to enlist the aid of another iconic advertising figure.

“Death and Two Maidens: The Sad Fate of Prothenia Jenkins” shows us the life and death of Prothenia, and what happens to her afterward.

“Coalrose” is my favorite of the stories in here, although it had to do battle with “Sugardaddy” and “Sapling” for that honor. In 1930, Etta goes to the big city because she wants to be an actress. Of course, roles for black women are scarce and not entirely appealing. She reinvents herself as Zoë Coalrose, using her mysterious ability to affect people’s minds to become a cult favorite. We get to see how she touches a handful of the lives around her over the course of 30 years.

I absolutely love this set of stories. There are so many strong women in here, living such magical lives. It’s a delightful anthology.

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