This week for Short Tuesday I was on the hunt for short fiction by Georgina Bruce, who has a new short story collection that was just published this month. “Ghost of a Horse Under a Chandelier” is an older story, but I wanted to get a sense of her voice before making a decision about checking out her new collection. You can read the short story for free here…
The story focuses on a young lesbian coming to terms with her sexuality; she has a strong imagination, and interspersed throughout the story are vignettes from a seemingly magical book. It’s all very fuzzy and magical realism-ish, and I wasn’t in love with the vignettes if I’m being honest, since they felt pretty unconnected from the rest of the piece.
The ballroom of the Grand Hotel by candlelight is amber and sepia, drifting into darkness at the edges like an old postcard. It smells of stale water, tallow, and dust. The ruby carpet is threadbare and shiny, and the plaster has been knocked off the walls, leaving bare brick in places, water-stained and sick. But in the candlelight the room still has a certain romance.
The bits in the real world also have a floaty, unmoored feeling. I had a difficult time in the beginning of the piece getting a sense of how old the MC was; she read wayyyy younger to me at first than she actually is. The additional feminist focus had me speeding towards the end to be done with the story. I can appreciate a magical realism story with a coming-of-age focus, but once you start throwing in Patriarch Fish and horses named Andrea Dworkin, we’ve entered territory too silly and ideological for my preference. If there’s anything I can say about my taste in fiction, it’s that I never want to feel like I’m reading short stories penned by r/TwoXChromosomes power users.
“You’re an artist,” says Zillah. She shows Joy what she’s reading, pushing the book over the table.
It is Ursula Bluethunder, Zillah and Joy’s favourite comic book. Ursula Bluethunder is a radical black, woman-loving superheroine, whose mission is to establish a lesbian separatist nation with money that she steals from banks using her superior intelligence, strength, and martial arts skills. She likes hanging out in libraries, too.
See what I mean? It’s just too much for my tastes, though some might love it. So despite some pretty descriptions, this piece was unfortunately not for me.
I feel a bit like Jenna Marbles right now. “We-put-out-new-videos-every-Wednesday-slash-Thursday-SUBSCRIBE!!!!” Sometimes life happens, and you run a little late. This week it was health stuff… But I’m here now and ready to rumble. 🙂
So this week I returned yet again to Tor.com to check out their original fiction. I was intrigued by this story by Lavie Tidhar, since I have a passion for and academic background relating to the Chinese language and culture, so “Yiwu” it was. You can read the short story here…
I liked this story… okay. I appreciated the focus on environmental details in the story, but there were just so many of them that it gave an overall jumbled effect.
The air smelled of hot leather, shoe polish, fried garlic, knockoff Chanel No. 5 perfume, uncollected garbage, frangipani and the recycled air blown out of a thousand air conditioners.
Used a bit more sparingly and with greater care, these details could have done a great job setting the scene (I’m thinking specifically of Haruki Murakami, who’s an expert at this sort of thing), but here the narrative felt cluttered by details that gave the impression they were only there to grant exotic flair.
The sparse plot, too, I was only halfway invested in. Once we got to Esham visiting the lottery office, I was getting a bit excited, since it seemed like we were going to get a chance to peek at the wizard behind the curtain. I was definitely wondering if everything thus far was some sort of virtual reality… and maybe it is? But the author shields us from garnering any further truths, which just left me a bit frustrated. I wanted more of a concrete look at the realities of this mysterious world, but the simple ending just left me a bit annoyed. So I’ll give this three stars for some nice imagery and the tantalizing feeling of being just about to see the cogs that are making this world tick… But overall I just wanted more substance.
This week I returned to Tor.com for another look at their original fiction. Lis Mitchell’s “Blue Morphos in the Garden” was published just a few days ago, and the beautiful illustration and the promise of magical realism was enough to hook me. You can read the short story right here!
I liked this story quite a bit! It centers around death, tradition, and what it means to be part of a family—don’t want to give anything away, but the family members in the story have a particular heritage relating to death. Every sentence felt purposeful and necessary, and the language itself was beautiful and evocative.
The outer edge of the wing resembles split wood with whorled knots, but each butterfly unfolds itself into a slice of fluttering blue sky and dark stormshadow. Open—sky, closed—wood.
I will say that I liked the story from start to finish, but felt that the opening imagery was the most compelling, I think because after that readers basically have a sense of what’s going on. I don’t want to know all the ins-and-outs with magical realism—would rather preserve a hearty dose of ambiguity. I also thought that Dash, the MC’s partner, was a very weak character personality-wise, leaving me to wonder what the MC sees in him—they seemed very ill-matched, not just because they don’t see eye to eye on the one issue central to the story. I couldn’t help wondering if it weren’t for their child whether they would still be together.
So some interesting things to contemplate while reading this story, coupled with a lot of beautiful imagery and sentence-craft. If magical realism is your thing, definitely give this story a shot.
This week I read the third short story in Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, “The Specialist’s Hat.” You can read the short story here… FYI that there are vague spoilers in this review.
Now that I’m three stories into the Kelly Link book, I’m starting to get a pretty good grasp of her style. I went into this anticipating I’d have little to no concrete answers at the end of this story, and I was right, but again I was left with that eerie, uncomfortable, awful things are happening in the background feeling that Link does so well.
One thing I did notice was the emphasis on the concrete, in particular the constant numbers throughout the text. The chandelier has “exactly 632 leaded crystals shaped like teardrops,” the house has eight chimneys, the twin main characters’ game has three rules. (A few things in the story even smell like Chanel No. 5.) And then there’s the difference between “gray” and “grey,” and “dead” and “Dead.” It feels like everything that is happening to the girls is so vague and creepy that they rely (subconsciously or otherwise) on numbers, definitions, and rules to define their slippery reality.
Overall, I can’t say I loved this story; I have the sense that it’s well-written, just not for me, or maybe not for me right now. It might have to do with the fact that I kept getting interrupted while reading, so I had to read the story in a very fractured way. In any case, I think I’m going to set down Stranger Things Happen for a week or two and try something else for next Tuesday.
This week I read the second short story in Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back.” You can read the short story here… FYI that there are vague spoilers in this review.
I enjoyed this short story, though I do think I connected more with last week’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.” I assume that the name of the short story is tied to the idiom “like water off a duck’s back,” meaning that harsh critique doesn’t have any effect on someone, but I’m struggling to connect that idiom to the story. Perhaps something to do with the black dogs’ constant, menacing presence? Or the MC’s steadfast commitment to his clearly odd relationship?
I think the thing I liked most about this story was the penetrating feeling of dread. You can just feel that the MC, Carroll, has embroiled himself in something bad, and you’re left waiting for the other shoe to drop. (My, we’re all about idioms today!) This is another story built more on mood than plot; don’t expect much to make sense, but if you want to read something vaguely uncomfortable and foreboding, I’m getting the sense that Kelly Link is your author.
One thing I’m wondering having read these two Link stories thus far is whether magical realism necessitates a more passive MC. Both MCs in these stories do things, but they’re not exactly the questioning type. Strange things happen (har har), and the characters just sort of mosey along through life, taking the oddities as they come. I haven’t read much magical realism save for Murakami, so it’s hard to say for certain, but I think it’s a trend that I’m noticing.