|Art by John|
The original stories of August’s The Dark Magazine provide two very different looks at guilt, remorse, and penance. In the first, a young woman deals with her isolation and her shattering exit from that isolation. Deals with her own actions and tries to make right something that can’t really be. Similarly, the second story also finds a person trying to make something right that really can’t be. A loss that can’t be reclaimed. A wound that leaves a deep scar. In both, the characters must navigate their own roles in death, and try to find ways forward despite a world that is dangerous and full of violence and wonder. To the reviews!
“Bobbie and Her Father” by Gillian Daniels (5994 words)
No Spoilers: Bobbie is...well, Bobbie isn’t quite normal. I mean, in many ways she’s like any other teenage girl. She likes dancing, likes singing. But she’s kept at home all the time, in fear of germs from outside that might pose a fatal danger to her. She watches a lot of movies and television. The only real human contact she has is with her father. Her father, who wants to make sure she stays at home. Who stitched her together to begin with. Who fixes her up when things go wrong. When he agrees that it’s time to for her to socialize, though, neither of them can really predict what’s going to happen. Heh. Heh. Oh god. It’s a moving but chilling look at her life and situation.
Keywords: Family, Isolation, Reconstruction, Socialization, CW- Gore
Review: This is a complicated story, a look at a young woman who has been isolated, who has been made, who has had very little control over her own life, manipulated into seclusion and angry both at the limitations of her body and the limitations of her socialization. She’s not exactly Frankenstein’s monster but there’s nothing really saying why she’s been created. To replace a daughter lost in an accident? Her origins are shrouded in mystery, in the things that her father isn’t saying. All that the reader is told is that she was made, and that in some ways she represents her father’s desire to end death, to push back against it. She’s supernaturally strong, and she’s not used to dealing with social clues. I actually like the way she deals with the first person her age she meets, a boy named Travis who is abrasive, who plays the part of the thorny teen boy very well, cruel and damaged. In a different story, this would be a romance, and his cruelty might be forgiven as a symptom of how he’s been hurt, too. Except that Bobbie doesn’t know how to play the part that’s expected of her, and when she’s hurt, she hurts back... The result is difficult to read in its description of the damage done, but it kind of shows how Bobbie reacts to the injustice of her situation, the ways she’s been hurt, and how that needs expressing. The result is visceral, an exploration of how these acts, these violences, like Bobbie’s father creating her and then isolating her, come in cycles. It’s the only way she knows, and so it makes sense that she would lash out, that she would seek to express herself that way, that she would seek to “make it right” in the same ways her father might have. Only it’s not right, and the piece ends only with the promise of more pain, more loss. It’s a heavy piece that brings Frankenstein into a much more modern setting, and it’s an unsettling but great read!
“Great-Auntie Elsie’s Book of Bevies” by Suzanne Willis (4218 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is looking to purge themselves of the guilt they feel. The guilt swirling around the loss of the man they loved, a German man living in England during World War I. The piece deals with drinks, with the narrator seeking to create just the right tincture, just the right potion, to summon up a figure from myth and legend to take away the pain of their memories. To do it right, though, there are things they must do, rituals that need to be performed and respected. The piece is heavy with grief and remorse, and builds around this unspeakable thing, this secret that is too heavy to carry, too loud to be kept quiet forever. It’s lovely and rending.
Keywords: World War I, Relationships, CW- Internment Camps, Poison, Mixed Drinks, Bargains, Guilt
Review: I’m a sucker for stories that involve cocktails (this would have been a great choice for when I was doing The Monthly Round), and I love the way the different mixtures are worked into the story. Cocktails are on one level just a nifty way to get drunk, but on another level they are a kind of alchemy almost. A like of spellcraft. The narrator really doesn’t have a background in magic. So they make one, and their mixing guide is their spellbook. Through it they work toward trying to make the perfect combination of elements to summon the Erl-King, a figure shrouded in shadows, a person who might be able to take away not the memories of what has happened, but the pain and the guilt and the shame. The weight that has been wearing at the narrator since the tragic events where they lost their love. And...I love that so much of the story might just be the narrator going on this journey, working to forgive themself for something that...that was accident. A tragic one, just, but not necessarily one that was anyone’s fault. Because it was done trying to save Oskar, the man they loved. And yes, it went wrong. And yes, he died. But surviving the internment camp was in no ways a guarantee. Surviving after the war, when he’d probably be deported anyway, was also not really a great prospect. It’s something that he probably wouldn’t have blamed them for. That he accepted as a risk. But the narrator has still been blaming themself, and it takes this journey, this time, this penance for them to be able to finally forgive themself, the pact with the Erl-King not exactly empty but...but for me it matters that the Erl-King doesn’t ask for anything. It’s just the narrator finally letting it go, and it’s a beautiful and deep story that I definitely recommend people spend some time with. A wonderful read!