Adventures in LitFic - Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill
Quite recently I’ve had a bit of a 180 in literary tastes. As someone who’s read a wide variety of genres my whole life, but mostly YA, recently all I want to read is Adult Literary fiction. I’m just so drawn to it at the moment. I don’t see much discussion about Adult Literary fiction here, since the community seems pretty YA centric, so I thought I would chronicle my adventures into the world of LitFic by posting some book reviews! I had no idea where to start as I blindly walked into this new world of fiction, so if anyone else is wanting to read more of this type of story I hope I can provide a bit of guidance through my trial and error. If you generally read in this category, please send me your recs because I’m a noob.
I decided to start my adventures into LitFic with Heather O’Neill’s collection Daydreams of Angels because a) I’ve been writing short stories lately and wanted to read more of that form, and b) I adored Heather O’Neill’s debut novel Lullabies for Little Criminals and wanted to check out more of her work.
Genre: Literary Fiction, short short collection
Page count: 352
What drew me to it: I love O’Neill’s writing style, it’s so original, and I was captivated by the idea of modern fairy tale or fable type stories. If anyone could pull it off, it would be Heather O’Neill. Plus, it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for magical realism.
Rating: 4 stars
What an enchanting little collection of stories! My favourites were Swan Lake for Beginners, The Holy Dove Parade, The Isle of Dr. Moreau, The Story of Little O, and Where Babies Come From. The stories delve into the absurd or satirical quite frequently (she has a delightful yet strange sense of humour), and paired with O'Neill’s unbelievable gift for similes and metaphors (seriously, she is the queen, how does she think of these things?) the entire collection feels like some demented fable. It’s fascinating how she takes innocent fairy tale form and weaves it with themes of war, sexuality, or abuse. Some of the stories are tragic, but many are also whimsical.
I docked a star because despite the amazing originality in her ideas, many of the stories seem to have a similar structure and by the mid-point of the collection I wanted to see what O'Neill’s wondrous imagination could do structure wise, not just linguistic and concept wise. Some stories seemed completely carried by concept, and characterization wasn’t very deep. I can mostly deal with that seeing as the stories are meant to be fable-like, although at times the stories felt more lofty than grounded and more was told through summary than shown in scene. Again, I feel this comes with the form she chose although it worked better in some stories than others. Also, a tiny thing but as a writing student I’m trained to nitpick this stuff, she overuses the word ‘that’ an insane amount. Her prose is so strong, and her imagery is so original, but I was always getting distracted by that one weasel word which appeared constantly. I would sometimes count five or more in a short paragraph that could be cut. Anyways, small thing but I guess I was wondering why whoever edited this didn’t see the need to trim the unneeded words and really make her prose shine as much as possible.
Daydreams of Heaven is quirky, odd, and unlike anything I’ve read before. O’Neill has a mind that can conjure up the strangest of stories, but I’m all for that. Yes, it’s weird, but it’s enchanting. If you do give the collection a read, I would suggest not reading the entire collection straight through because you might get tired of the repetitive ‘grandfather story’ form which has caused many of the stories to blur together in my memory. I would also still recommend Lullabies for Little Criminals over this collection if you’re starting with her work.
Overall, a really delightful collection. The stories are quite atypical, all fable or fairy-tale like, but O'Neill isn’t afraid to bring in some gritty realism paired with her dreamy and quirky narrative style. Her debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, is one of my favourite books and reading this collection reminded me how much I adore her style, it’s truly unlike any other. I will be picking up her other novel soon because I can’t get enough of her writing.