Blood Roses by Francesca Lia Block

I’ve actually only ever read one other book by Francesca Lia Block – Pretty Dead, a slim vampire novel that was published in 2009. In anyone else’s hands, the story may well have been a generic vampire romance, but in Block’s, it was something else entirely.

Several reviews of Blood Roses, a collection of nine (very) short stories first published in 2008, call Block’s writing “prose poetry,” which I think is a good descriptor. The stories, which each take under five minutes to read, are loosely connected to each other and focus on teenage girls undergoing some sort of transformation – physical, sexual, magical. There’s a thread of fantasy that connects them all, sometimes dark, sometimes restorative, sometimes both. Block’s fantasy in these stories is a metaphor for adolescence and coming of age, and I loved nearly all of them.

In one story, a girl tells the reader that her boyfriend is an alien and explains how she knows. In another, a girl suddenly develops tattoos all over her body after becoming infatuated with a tattoo artist. In another, a girl meets a centaur and takes him home with her. Many of them are sexual in some way, and many involve other mature topics like drugs or family violence. While all of the stories are fantastical, Block doesn’t let her characters dwell on the fantasy aspects – the fantasy is simply a part of their world. (One review claimed that the characters may not all be quite sane, which is possible, I suppose, but it’s not how I prefer to think of it. It’s too literal an interpretation for me.)

Block’s use of language is always imaginative and always beautiful. She’s a fan of short, impactful sentences, unusual story structure, and interesting metaphors. The result is very moody, atmospheric writing you can get lost in. It can also result in some confusion as to what really happened, but that seems purposeful, and it doesn’t detract from the stories, which straddle the line between fantasy and reality anyway.

Due to the nature of Block’s writing, which is very different from most everything else, her books won’t be for everyone. Personally, I love them. She takes risks with language and trusts that her readers are mature enough to understand her. I often have a hard time with short stories, but these were a treat, and I think other readers interested in unusual, edgy fantasy writing will enjoy them too.

Book purchased.

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