Most of the stories here are slighter by design, like number 32, about the dangers of playing strip fondue (the hot cheese variety); or number 46, about a couple whose freezer reverts to nature while they're away; or even number 54, in which the devil goes mushroom hunting, hoarding the best ones and leaving the flavorless kinds behind for mortal scavengers. (Lucifer "thinks the mushrooms are too good for us.") If The Devil's Larder is beginning to sound like a film by Peter Greenaway, don't fear; Crace's organizing principle is infinitely more transparent, humane, and flexible than, say, the counting scheme in Greenaway's Drowning by Numbers. A few of the stories in Crace's book are throwaways, a repetition here or there is pointless, and the rare sentence, in its aftermath, rings untrue. Yet Crace would never stoop to aestheticizing brutality and loss (as Greenaway has been known to do), and even the darkest stories in The Devil's Larder, such as they are, seem lit by understanding and a reverence for the real.
What does it all add up to in the end? That is to say, in the absence of what we practical Yanks look for in a collection of short storiesˇcharacters abuzz with epiphany, regional or urban color, the crutch of filmic resolutionˇwhat does the reader hold on to? The stories in The Devil's Larder are indeed "linked," as is the fashion nowadays ("Wait a minute . . . don't tell me . . . it's the gynecologist from apartment 2A!"), though by a subtler and more agile method than what we're used to on these shores. Binoculars are a recurring motif, as are stones, eggs, canned goods, andˇhow shall I say it?ˇhuman fertilizer, as well as games and faintly pagan rituals to summon wishes into being. The deeper linkages, of course, are to those mysterious forces that lie below the surface of life and literature: the capacity to wonder, the ability to love, and the instinct to survive (i.e., "What shall I eat today?").
There is something of the shaman about Crace, as has probably been remarked before, and his incantatory powers, though they can be wearying, are infectious. Interested yet? Dig a hole in your backyard garden, then fill it with stones and a single robin's egg, build a mound over the top, and read aloud a selection from Mondazy, preferably in the rain. Wait two days and excavate your moundˇbut gently. In place of the robin's egg you'll find a pristine copy of The Devil's Larder. Read.
Benjamin Anastas is the author of the novel The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor's Disappearance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001).