Breaking the boundaries between literary and genre fiction, Gregory Bernard Banks’ Phoenix Tales: Stories of Death and Life is a stunning collection of short stories that confronts the meaning of life and death with beautiful bravery. Part science fiction, part philosophy, with a little horror thrown in, this collection should be on everyone’s reading list.
Each tale is a wonder in and of itself, and combined into a collection, creates a dramatic and insightful tool with which to uncover our own thoughts and fears on the subject matter.
Banks opens the collection with “Escape Velocity”; a telling and frighteningly pertinent story of the price of heroic life saving efforts when the government, not the people themselves, decide if they should be allowed to die. With “Touched,”he delivers a futuristic Pinocchio tale involving a genetically enhanced boy who learns what it means to be human. While the stories have a strong science fiction bent, the reader always feels they are in a familiar place.
“An Elysian Dream” tells the story of a young woman who quickly discovers that paradise without freedom is nothing more than a prettier version of hell. A man learns it’s never too late to make amends with the past in “Home Going.” In the hands of another writer, these stories may have come out as either empty nihilist tales or shallow reaffirmations. But Banks has a knack of taking what might otherwise be considered morose story concepts and turning them into uplifting, insightful, and poignant life lessons.
With “Living with Mrs. Klase,” an abused woman and her children find Christmas with a retired farmer and his wife, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. “The Soul Man,” a story involving a person who seems to be the savior of abused children, is part flash fiction, part poetry, and part modern myth.
There are seventeen stories in this collection and every one of them elicited strong emotions in me as I read them. These are incredible stories that need to be read.