|Art by Sandro Castelli|
“The Triumphant Ward of the Railroad and the Sea” by Sara Saab (5500 words)
No Spoilers: Neave is a ward of a self-driving train after her family was lost to the Sea. Ever since, Neave has traveled up and down the coast, making a living by becoming a renowned competitive eater. Aboard the train she drinks with people but the closest she has to a friend is Srdan, who is a bit strange, and the story explores Neave’s place in the world, pulled between the train and the sea. It’s a bit of a weird read, lyrical and poetic and filled with an amorphic magic, a mystery and a lack that condenses into this driving push out to sea. I love the humor of the piece, the flavors and the gusto with which Neave tackles life, even as I feel haunted by the ending, by the feeling of isolation and loneliness that separates Neave from having a real community to belong to.
Keywords: Trains, Seas, Eating, Loneliness, Orphans, Food
Review: I haven’t read too many stories that revolve around competitive eating, much les ones that contain strange trains, a hungry sea, and a whole lot of loss. So this is a rather weird and unique tale, one that unfolds with a language tinged in equal parts longing and humor. What strikes me most about the story, though, is how it handles hunger and longing. Neave is a character that is very good at eating, and yet she describes herself as never very hungry. It’s only later that she really starts to feel that way, and for me it’s more an indication that she’s feeling isolated, cut off from people. Despite being on a rather crowded train, the only person she has much to do with is Srdan, and even he seems to keep his distance. The result is a sort of landscape that is hungry, that is trying to draw Neave into the depths of seeing herself as somehow lesser. For me, at least, the story seems to follow Neave living according to her own rules but facing the pressure to conform to the expectations of those around her. Expected to act a certain way, to think a certain way. She’s never been self-conscious about her eating and yet in front of Srdan’s scrutiny her shell begins to crack. The train that has always protected her from the pull of sea stops being able to do that function because the sea has somehow managed to get inside the train, inside her defenses. The story is heavy and wrenching, and has a lot to do with eating and food and distance. It’s not an easy story, though I found a lot of it fun, and Neave a great character to follow. But it doesn’t exactly lead her to a happy place, because of how everything seems to be arrayed to drag her down. It’s challenging and certainly flavored with salt water and darkness, but it’s also a great read!
“They Have a Name For That” by Sara Beitia (6100 words)
No Spoilers: A woman is home to take part in the marriage of her sister at her parent’s home. Her father, though, has some form of dementia, and the situation as a whole is complicated by the narrator’s transformation from human into...something a bit different. It’s a strange tale about family and about relationships, sibling rivalry and the things said and unsaid. The narrator struggles with returning home and finding things changed, struggles with a loss that she can’t talk about, and struggles with not really knowing what to do next. Throw in the chaos of planning a wedding and things get weird and out of hand and quite interesting. Surreal, vivid, and with a taste of the wild.
Keywords: Weddings, Family, Sisters, Loss, Transformation, Bees, Deer
Review: For me there’s a lot going on with this story. First, it’s a piece about family and the narrator’s place within her own family. Suddenly the odd one out, suddenly transforming, becoming something that doesn’t fit in, that not only doesn’t fit in but that the rest of the family is more hostile toward, considering her a pest trying to ruin this day for her sister. She’s having difficulty navigating the situation, with her father because of his deterioration, with her mother because of the expectations she’s always placed on everyone, and with her sister because the narrator can’t talk about her own marriage, that ended in her husband lost and probably dead. All these things fester, create out of the narrator a deer, nervous and flighty. I also think, though, that the story works a lot with the natural world, with the ways that it bends around people and the ways that humans try to bend it further. Expecting rabbits to not eat a garden. Expecting bees to be kind. Expecting to trespass into the wild and be able to bring it back in tame photographs. And the narrator, who finds herself on that side of things, expected to bend, to fit herself, finds that it literally changes her into something else, so that her only option seems to be to flee, to run. It’s a weird story, and one that moves with a nice edge of humor, the situation bordering on ridiculous but for the loss at the heart of it, the grief everyone feels that the father doesn’t know what’s happening, that this cannot be perfect no matter what but no one wants to admit it. It’s complex and dense and very much worth spending some time with. A great read!