On the Winding Stair, Joanna Howard’s first collection of stories, draws heavily on the clichés of mainstream fiction genres such as mystery and fantasy, but does so only to bend one’s expectations, to bring new surprises and intelligence to the genres. Howard is continuously aware of plot and character, and her stories are infused with her sharp eye for details, but she uses words more like a poet who savors language, repetition, word-play, and ambiguous meaning, than a fiction writer following conventions. Through her inventive and challenging use of language and structure, Howard keeps her reader moving forward through strange, surreal landscapes that demand close reading and attention. One is never quite sure if many of her characters are even alive or dead. This ambiguity allows the author space to create fiction that is free from the bonds of worldly convention. Indeed, Joanna Howard’s writing is startlingly, and delightfully, other-worldly.
"Like a fever dream, every sense is heightened in these stories. Every smell is fermented, every sight is lush, every taste is pungent, every sound reverberates." --The Brooklyn Rail
"The relations between the departed and the remaining, the sought and the searching, and the past and the present spur the charm and mystery behind these stories..." --Verse
"Howard's sensuous prose is to be savored for its own sake." --Publishers Weekly
The glass lantern is fractured. It’s time to start slowly.
She wore a cloisonné earring in the shape of a fish. Harry James was playing on the Victrola. He spoke at the bar, softly, so as not to interrupt. The gentleman across from him was a confused type.
My mother and father were brother and sister, the gentleman told him.
He agreed and excused himself.
She slipped about the room like walking on petals on pillows on air. He approached her.
Please, she said. I’m guilty enough just standing here.
He had his answer, and still it seemed he’d heard the song before.
© BOA Editions, Ltd 2009
Publishing Date: 2009