You Will Meet a Stranger Far From Home: Wonder Stories – Alex Jeffers (Lethe Press)

And what strangers they are—from fallen angels to
gender-switching brothers to literal faeries to the last old woman in the
world. Alex Jeffers brings them all to life in this strangely exotic collection
of short stories that amazes as it entertains.

Whenever I encounter one of Jeffers’ stories in an anthology
(as in Touch of the Sea or Boys of Summer), I usually read it
first because I know I will be astounded, not only by the depth of his
imagination but by his ability to make those imagined worlds become real. I
also know that I will be reading a story layered with atmosphere and
meaning—dense and delicious as a flourless chocolate cake.

Jeffers’ greatest talent lies in creating worlds that are
similar enough to ours to be recognizable yet singular enough to allow anything
to happen. Consider “Liam and the Wild Fairy,” an absolutely delightful tale
that begins with a boy’s telephone conversation with his father about missing
the school bus (which he’s done on purpose because of the bullies). Typical
suburban event, right? Only the boy is a budding fairy—the real kind—as
is his father. The boy is coaxed from his path home by a wild fairy he
encounters, who beckons him to come to fairyland. Does the boy leave this world
of taunts and ostracism to join his fellow sprites? Only a spoilsport would
tell.

Another of Jeffers’ favorite devices is gender-bending, a
hint of which spices “Firooz and His Brother,” which sees Firooz finding a baby
abandoned in the forest. Firooze raises the child as his brother, which is
fortunate as he’s unable to conceive with his wife. Once his brother reaches
adulthood, however, he offers to bear his brother’s child. And does. But the
sex-shifting becomes paramount in the wonderfully complex “Tattooed Love Boys.”
This story finds two teenagers, Emma and Theo, in a foreign city and enamored
of the local tattoo shop and the fallen angels who run it. But Emma becomes
hairy-chested Emmanuel (and sometimes Manny) and Theo is a female Teddy—when
he’s not. And when they mix it up with the angels, it’s difficult to predict
who will end up with whom. Even when reassigning genitalia, however, Jeffers
manages to keep the plot clear and his characters distinct.

But perhaps my favorite story here is “Jannicke’s Cat,” an
intriguing tale of the last old woman on earth and a plushy toy she makes for
her grandson, inspired by a cat she used to have as a girl. Women have died out
on this planet, and all (male) children are conceived in laboratories, reared
by male/male couples—a sly commentary on same-sex parenting. This piece has an
air of poignant wistfulness and a longing that breaks your heart at the end.
Beautifully wrought and rich with character, I read it three times before I
finally let go. These were not the only standouts here.

Everything is worth your while, from the whirling dervish
saga “Turning” to the change of scenery in “Then We Went There” to the
politically exotic “Arab’s Prayer,” you will be astonished at Jeffers’ scope.
Savor his flavors.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler 

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