Mixed Up edited by Nick Mamatas & Molly Tanzer
Mixed Up (2017) is an anthology of cocktail-themed flash fiction and cocktail recipes, edited by Nick Mamatas and Molly Tanzer. The stories, like the drink recipes, are grouped by type and theme. I thought the editors took the most liberal view of “flash” here, because I think some of these works might run to 1200 words or slightly over, and I think of flash as topping out at 1,000 words. I don’t think there is a hard and fast threshold, and certainly the spirit of flash fiction (see what I did there?) is met.
Nick Mamatas says in his introduction to the stories that this is conceived as an old-fashioned “all-stories” magazine. The tales in the book include literary stylings, horror, science fiction, fantasy and absurdist fiction.
As is usually the case with me, not all the stories in Mixed Up charmed me. Many did, and some were standouts. Tanzer’s afterwords on the subject of various liquors and beverages was a more consistent experience, one hundred percent entertaining. The book really does have recipes; it would be a good addition to your bar, and you can read some fiction during your mixology downtimes.
Jeff VanderMeer’s “Marmot Season” stood out for me. For some reason, I don’t think of VanderMeer as a comic writer. This is not a light-hearted story at all (it’s about revenge and madness) but I laughed a lot as our unreliable narrator, armed only with a vacuum flask of Moscow Mules, gets stranded on a remote island while searching for the rare Marmot sparticanicus. It is the narrative voice of our clueless main character that makes this one simultaneously wild, dark and funny.
Speaking of revenge, Benjamin Percy’s “Bloody at Maizie’s Joint” is a story of magical revenge with a vividly rendered setting and, once again, a pitch-perfect narrative voice. Maizie is the bartender who can mix up the perfect cursed bloody Mary, and our narrator is looking for some payback.
“One More Night to be Pirates,” by Libby Cudmore, is probably the sweetest story in the bunch, and it features a sweet drink, the Dark ‘n’ Stormy. Armand and Morgan were best friends growing up, playing at being pirates in Armand’s back yard. Throughout school they had each other’s backs, even though they drifted apart and married other people. Now, one night decades later, they have sneaked back to Armand’s old home to dig up a time capsule they buried. It’s a great story about friendship and might-have-beens.
Mamatas contributed a piece, “The End of the End of History,” set in New York City at the end of the 1990s. I didn’t read this as a beginning-middle-and-end story so much as an intriguing verbal collage, filled with beguiling dialogue and interesting images, polished off with a fascinating cameo rendered even more fascinating by recent current events. The heart of this story is a question that philosophers have dueled over for decades: is a vodka martini actually a martini? Read “The End of the End of History” and draw your own conclusion.
There are definitely monster stories here. “There and Back Again” by Carmen Maria Machado plays with the idea of an innocent monster (and the Corpse Reviver #2).
In Elizabeth Hand’s “Eat the Wyrm,” the horror starts right where her prose ends. Before that, though, she provides signature Hand visuals, nearly hallucinatory in nature, as our main character and her friend walk through a grow-lighted Quonset hut in Greenland. It is filled with maguey plants, and the friend knows the owner of the strangest mescal distillery in the world. The “casual” conversation before they get down to tasting this rare and expensive mescal is so important… What is the story of the prehistoric arm — only an arm — found in the melting glacier? I can’t resist quoting from this one, because Hand’s prose is so gorgeous:
The room was filled with huge, spiky plants, some nearly as tall as I was, their thick, blade-shaped leaves shading from periwinkle blue to a green so rich and dark the leaves might have been carved from malachite. I inhaled deeply, my nostrils stung by the heat and also by the slightly acrid scent of the agave plants; it was as though their leaves had been singed.
Tim Pratt’s “But You Can’t Stay Here” is about endings and beginnings, as two characters, sipping cocktails, watch the world change around then in a surreal, catastrophic way. The conversation brings this story to life. “Dinner with the Fire-Breathers,” by Robert Smartwood, is lighter in tone but still sad in conclusion, as a young man is brought home to meet his girlfriend’s parents. “I’ve Been Tired” by Cara Hoffman follows the daily life of an Ivy-League-educated woman who has returned to her home town in the US Southeast, and features her son and the gin cocktail the negroni. This is the kind of story I wouldn’t be surprised to find in the New Yorker, a nicely paced slice-of-weird-life.
In “A Hot Night at Hinky Dinks” Will Vaharo nudges and winks his way through the folklore of the invention of the mai tai and the feud between Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic) and Don the Beachcomber. The story includes the details of the original mai tai, a few other historical characters, a vampire and — of course — a werewolf with perfect hair.
“In the Sky She Floats” by Gina Marie Guadignino, is an immigrant story of love at first sight, set in 1920s Manhattan. Beautiful descriptions enhance this one.
I said earlier that not all the stories resonated with me, but they are all high-quality in terms of prose and style. Tanzer’s cocktail tips, interspersed with the fiction, are all useful, written in a clear, light and humorous tone. At the end of the book, Tanzer provides some tips on setting up your home bar.
I think the perfect reader for Mixed Up has to have an interest in cocktails, even if that interest is abstract. There is a risk in aiming an anthology at such a specific market niche, but that risk pays off here. Cheers! And enjoy.
I just might be in this niche . . .
I am getting this.
Hrmmm…I’m not sure about the stories, but I’m always looking for tips re: my home bar…
I think you’d enjoy a few of these, Jana, and it’s worth it for the liquor knowledge.
My book arrived. I got the hardback version and put it in my liquor cabinet. I love that it has a string bookmark. I look forward to reading stories and crafting cocktails!
Kat, you can (almost) do both at once.
I thought the bookmark was an excellent detail.