Thursday, November 3, 2016

Quick Sips - The Dark #18

The original fiction from November's The Dark Magazine focus on willful ignorance. On disbelief. In both stories the main characters are trapped in situations because they are not believed, because they are coded as women. They are stripped of their agency, convinced that what is happening to them is just and right and their own feelings of dread, pain, and despair are somehow unwarranted and wrong. These are stories that look at how women are ignored, silenced, and abused, and how institutions reinforce this, legitimize this, even at the expense of the people they are supposed to protect. It's a disturbing pair of stories with a heady atmosphere of violence and death and it makes for a compelling issue that I'm about to review!

Art by Vincent Chong


"The House That Jessica Built" by Nadia Bulkin (6040 words)

This is a rather creepy story about the way that people aren't believed. Especially women. Especially children. And how everyone is so eager to find a cause for a problem that rests squarely in the broken minds of those people. It's an uncomfortable story, as well, that looks at abuse and looks at institutional biases towards preventing victims from getting the help they need. It's a rather classic trope in horror to show just how uncomfortable, just how terrifying it is to not be believed. Here Rue is viewed as a liar, not because she has a history of lying but because people don't want to believe her. Because she is a woman. Because she is a child. Because it's easy to gaslight people into doubting their own minds, as Rue begins to doubt hers, and yet the threat is real, the haunting real. The horror of the piece springs from the same source that so many people live with daily. That they are viewed as less reliable. For no reason other than misogyny. It's a difficult story to read in some ways because that central idea is one that's not speculative at all. Always there are people who find stories like these unrealistic because it seems like those around Rue go out of their way to disbelieve her. That they can look at a door creak open on its own and thing that's normal. That they can see so much evidence of something being true but brush it away unconsidered. When, really, that's achingly real. It's exactly how people are treated because of who they are. Because they aren't white and male and cis and able enough. It's a gripping piece, too, that shows Rue grappling with how she is treated and with the abuse she suffers and how she is [SPOILERS] finally able to try and…not exactly move past it, but to be the kind of person that she never had. A person who believes. It's a great ending and a wonderful story!

"And In Our Daughters, We Find A Voice" by Cassandra Khaw (2104 words)

This is a visceral and violent retelling of The Little Mermaid, which is itself a rather messed up story that this tale simply takes to its logical (and bloody) conclusion. The story normally ends after the mermaid, mostly human, is taken back to the prince's kingdom to be his princess. Only here the story becomes about possession, about progeny, about control. The prince is greedy and needy and petulant, punishing the mermaid, his wife, the main character, for being different, trying to force her into the role of a "proper" princess. The story takes aim at the idea of romanticized princes and princesses, the sanitized Disney stories that get told again and again. Here the lesson is a bit clearer, and it is that men are hungry but women are no less hungry, no less deadly, no less powerful. That even when they trade away their voice in a deal that they regret, even when the are kept caged and controlled, they have options. And they have long memories. I love the way the story draws the main character and subverts the fairy tale, which was never one that made the most sense except as a story to put women in their place. To keep them silent and pretty. I also love the character of the doctor, who I would have loved to see more of because there seemed more going on with them than the story revealed. The story moves and goes right for the throat, though, less a guide on how to be a proper princess and more a guide on how you shouldn't be an abusive asshole or you might get a face full of death. A dark but fun story with a sharp edge. Go read it!


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