... the idea that what lies behind us, in newspapers, and photographs, textbooks and personal memories, is not just fiction. It is, instead, a fluid and magical text, a spellbook from which our futures are conjured. Burning Girls plays out this thesis over the course of thirteen stories that feel almost excavated, hauled out from deep and sometimes quite dark places. The result is a diverse haul of gems that draw from everything from real-world history to personal memory, eldritch fairy tales to eerie modern metaphors. Like all things dug out from darkness, there is ugliness aplenty to be found here—but there is incredible beauty too, found in works both raw and refined ... The real diamonds in the collection appear when Schanoes takes history-as-fairytale almost literally, digging her hands into painful public history and kneading out fantasies that feel breathtakingly real. The inherited trauma of Jewish history proves to be particularly fertile territory ... Burning Girls maintains an engagingly toothy weirdness throughout its length that always lures the reader in to some deeper reckoning ... The fiery coal at its center might be an agonizing loss, a terminal condition, mental illness, or a bad decision. But whatever it is, Schanoes is always intent on revealing the ugly and utterly magnetic thing that set her girls (and sometimes boys) on fire. The resulting flames, the words that lick their way off the page, are always painful ... And sometimes they are destructive and murderous, almost akin to a physical and psychological autopsy—indelible, but awash in a single color.
Schanoes wields her razor-sharp craft like a scalpel, carving every one of these pieces into something distinct and idiosyncratic and undeniably powerful. Intellectually challenging and emotionally intense, it’s a collection packed tight with highlights ... There’s a lot to dig about this book, but one of the most immediately striking things one notices upon finishing is the fact that the stories are somehow wide-ranging AND clearly related. They each operate under their own individual parameters while also sharing DNA. Like any family, there are outliers that nevertheless share similarities. Burning Girls and Other Stories also has that quality that marks the best short fiction collections—a compulsive readability. Each story is so provocative and so satisfyingly concluded that the reader almost can’t help turning the page and diving into the next.
Schanoes’s stories blend details from her personal life with recognizable elements of collective Western tales and myths, slyly updating and deftly critiquing family legends. Burning Girls is also like a Rivera mural in that it, too, is immersive. Like each individual panel in the Detroit Industry Murals, Schanoes’s stories contain much more than they originally seem to suggest. These tales are sophisticated cultural interventions: some challenge the reader to rethink received historical narratives, while others use fairy tales to challenge the gendered and gentrified conventions of fundamental cultural tropes. All are a heady mix of magic, myth, fantasy, and social commentary, from a politically left Jewish feminist perspective. Schanoes’s fairy tales are dark, closer to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm than to their more recent, bowdlerized versions. These are adult stories for our age ... Like Diego Rivera, Veronica Schanoes combines past and present, myth and current events to situate us in our own cultural context, drawing our eyes and hearts to details that surprise and resonate. Like the Baba Yaga, Schanoes takes us into her extraordinary dwelling; she shows us terror, cruelty, joy, satisfaction, grim reality, and revolutionary interventions of all kinds. We emerge, when she allows, in an unexpected place full of emotion and thought, and the transmuted understanding that peoples’ lives are more terrible, more precarious, and more miraculous than we can fully fathom.