Lips Touch Three Times is three short stories – or, really, two short stories and novella. Together the collection is united by depictions of a world in which the magical is only barely under the surface, a world where the simple acts of kissing, or singing, or cutting one’s hair can have far-reaching, even disastrous outcomes.
My favorite story was the middle one, where a young girl grows up with the knowledge, whispered to her by the servants and mocked by her parents, that if she speaks, her words will kill. But since she has excellent self-control, she has no way of knowing for sure. Has she spent her entire life denied a voice for no reason, or has her silence been the only wall between her family and death? Despite the fact that I could see every plot development coming, I still very much enjoyed both the atmosphere and the language of this short story.
The long novella, “Hatchling”, was far more detailed, both in its worldbuilding and its plot. Although I felt the language was not as jaw-dropping as in the previous two stories, that may simply have been because I was both more sucked into the story and more adapted to the use of words. This story is certainly the most disturbing of the three offerings. A discussion at the blog Heavy Medal suggested that many children who are not “ready” for some of the implied themes may simply read the story as being about body snatchers. But as an adult, I reacted strongly to what was essentially a mental rape. And a physical one, in some ways: the Druj take control of two bodies, including Esme, and have sex while “wearing” the bodies, leaving the original inhabitants of the bodies to simply sit and watch from a small corner of their own mind. The story skims over this aspect a bit, since the focus of the story is not on Esme, but readers should be aware that there is some potentially triggering material if you read deeply into the scenes.
Throughout the book the language is phenomenal. The book was a National Book Award Finalist, and it is not difficult to see why. The use of words to create a mode, define an atmosphere, and bring a character into sharp relief. The illustrations are also gorgeous.