|Art by Veli Nyström|
“Feral Attachments at the Kulle Bland Bergen” by T. S. McAdams (4334 words)
No Spoilers: Harald and Solveig are researchers studying trolls in the fields. They are also parents who have lost a child to the wilderness, to the trolls. Now, years later, their marriage shaken and much different than it was, the appearance of a feral child seemingly raised by trolls has both of them on edge and perhaps a little desperate. Making matters worse is their annual inspection from their university in the form of a younger scholar with a lot to prove. The piece is heavy with grief and distance—between Harald and Solveig and between the pair of them and the rest of the world. Between them and the moment they lost their son, and between them and the possible futures without him. Between hope and violence. Between guilt and blame.
Keywords: Trolls, Anthropology, CW- Loss of a Child, Isolation, Marriage
Review: There’s a certain numbness I feel from this story, from the way that Harald and Solveig move through their studies. Since the loss of their child, they are in a state of mourning, or shock, or guilt and recrimination. Harald blames himself and might be blamed as well by Solveig. It happened on his watch and he was supposed to know better. And since then all that they have to bind themselves to each other is their work, which really isn’t enough for more than a professional relationship. The affection has gone out of them, though there is something smoldering in them still for one another. A love that remembers and that endures. And it seems like it rekindles because of finding this feral child, because Harald is so sure that it is their son, even though it doesn’t seem to be. And I like how the story layers the study of the trolls with the way that Harald and Solveig are stuck waiting for some revelation that might never come. They are bound to the place, to where they lost their son, because his fate is ultimately unknown. He might return, and as much as neither parent really acknowledges that’s what they’re waiting for, it certainly seems to be. Threatening that is the unlikeliness that they’ll see their son again, and the pressures on them to continue to hold to the values of the academic world that they left the moment the research came so personal and powerful. They have crossed a line with their research, become “too involved” by the standards of their university, and yet in crossing that line they no longer care. They are willing, it seems to me, to let go of the expectation put on them, if only it will mean maybe being able to reclaim what they have lost. And in the story, as they tentatively find their way back to each other, that process begins. Though where it might lead is unknown. Still, it’s a quiet and hopeful story to me, and I love the feel of it. A great read!
“How the Mighty” by Dan Micklethwaite (4269 words)
No Spoilers: Boden is taking his son, Tal, to his first Fight, a gladiatorial combat sport (often to the death). Boden isn’t exactly in the greatest of shape, with a bad back, low funds, and a broken relationship with Tal’s mother. But he shares his son’s love of the Champion of the Fights, Branco, who will be defended his title. The piece is full of a sort of sinking dread. From the title, from Boden’s deep desire to show his son a good time, there’s something just a bit doomed about the action of the story, and it makes for a wrenching and often difficult read, at least for me, because it’s like watching a train wreck. Only here, nestled into the blood that’s going to flow, is also a moment between father and son, a betrayal and a love, and it makes for a rather resonating and emotional experience.
Keywords: Gladiators, Combat, Family, Betting, Death, Parenting
Review: This piece takes a look at family and parenting and, for me at least, the specific bond between this father and son. Because Boden...well, isn’t exactly around too much. He’s not with Tal’s mother anymore and so their time together comes in snatches. This time Boden wants it to be special. He wants to bring Tal through a sort of rite of passage. A step into Manhood. Going to the Fights. And it’s through this ritual that Boden tries to bond with his son, not really realizing that while this is going on he’s also fucking his kid up. Because really, taking a child to a to-the-death fight where his favorite fighter is either going to die or kill someone else is rather messed up. And it captures this relationship between Boden and Tal, and between many fathers trying to bond with their sons over pain, over a sort of forced trauma. They are cheering for their fighter, for who they want to win, and Boden believes that this draws them closer together. That it links them. And in a way it does, because the whole experience is so fucking traumatic that Tal probably isn’t going to forget it. But it’s a sort of linking of masculinity with pain and violence. Which Boden completely upholds, believing that the pain he endures for his son means that he loves his son. And he thinks the pain that Tal feels when his hero dies is also something that must be carried. That makes Tal more of a man. Only the whole exercise is so steeped in blood. It’s a killing of something inside of Tal that he won’t get back, and it’s that conscious killing by his father that is Tal’s introduction to a more adult masculinity. And the story reveals this quite well, even as it might use a rather subtle critique of it. Because it can certainly still be read as something of a tender story about a father loving his son and trying to do something good. But I think, ultimately, it’s a story about pain and the ways that men are taught to bury their pain, to their own detriment. It’s definitely worth spending some time with, though, and it’s also definitely a tightly paced and action-packed read.