The Keyhole Opera by Bruce Holland Rogers

Jeff VanderMeer • August 26th, 2007 @ 10:11 am • Book Reviews

Luis Rodrigues has translated Bruce Holland Rogers’ amazing collection The Keyhole Opera into Portuguese, for publication by Livros de Areia. I’m very honored to provide the introduction, which I’m posting below.

I’ve since read other collections by Rogers, and I think this is the one where he got the “mix” just right. I’m still dismayed that this collection got almost no attention from reviewers, even after it won the World Fantasy Award. (I’d also say that writers at almost every stage of development will learn a huge amount from reading The Keyhole Opera.)

Jeff

AN APPRECIATION OF A MASTER OF THE SHORT FORM

In a word, Bruce Holland Rogers is a genius of the short form, and what lies before you is the evidence of that genius. Not only does The Key Hole Opera contain individual stories that will make you laugh, cry, and inhabit the lives of people both very much like and unlike you, it also works as one of the very best collections of short fiction I’ve ever read.

The sections into which Rogers has divided The Key Hole Opera serve to accentuate this overall effect. Stories in “Metamorphoses,” for example, play off of each other, and create a dialogue with narratives in other sections. Other decisions also strike me as wise–for example, the inspired decision to start with “Stories,” which includes material that works because of what it leaves out, and end with the more complex leaps of faith that are the “Symmetrinas”.

You can pick and choose stories to read, if you like, or read sections out of sequence, starting with the ones that interest you the most. However, if you follow Rogers’ order, you will begin to experience a kind of blossoming of epiphany. A wonderful gathering of connectivity and of meaning occurs, culminating with the painful beauty of the final section. I remember the intensity of feeling that came over me as I read “The Symmetrinas,” and I knew it to be the type of emotion that originates not just from what holds the eye in that moment, but from a kind of subconscious recognition of a cumulative effect.

There are stories in The Key Hole Opera that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Some are smart and clever with an underlying depth, like “Half of the Empire.” Others, like “The Minor Poets of San Miguel County,” contain a truthful world-weariness combined with a luminous quality that comes from the recognition of what it is we sometimes have to settle for in this world. A story like “As Far East” exhibits a luminousness of another kind–it gains its power from what it leaves out, and through this winnowing manages to seem as all-encompassing as the world. “The Main Design That Shines Through Sky and Earth,” by contrast, achieves its startling effects by unique juxtapositions of ideas and people that most writers would never have thought to combine; and yet, such juxtapositions are the very soul of metaphor, one of the cornerstones of high-level literature.

The Key Hole Opera also rewards re-reading because the stories, although sometimes deceptively simple, have a life to them that cannot be revealed in a single sitting. And, as a writer, I find an extra layer in them, as well. For me, these stories have not only rewarded me as a reader, but as a writer, too. They’ve made me aware of effects and approaches that I never knew existed before. They’ve taught me a great deal.

For all of these reasons, I envy you who are encountering this book for the first time. You will have the pleasure of discovery and revelation that I once had–the pleasure of being amused, horrified, entertained, moved to tears, and much more besides. I hope you appreciate the talent on display here, and the wisdom, and give this collection your full attention. The more you invest in The Key Hole Opera, the more it gives back to you and will keep giving back to you.

3 Responses to “The Keyhole Opera by Bruce Holland Rogers”

  1. Matt Staggs says:

    Love the cover – reminds me of Alfons Mucha.

  2. James says:

    That collection does deserve more attention than it’s getting. I think the cover has something to do with it, sadly. Although like Matt, I do like the art, the overall design of the book doesn’t do it justice.

  3. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yeah, the cover doesn’t have much to do with the book. I didn’t think the interior was that annoying, though.
    JV

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