More Augur Magazine! Having tackled six SFF works last time, my next installments will cover 5 each. This one takes on two new short stories and three new poems, for works that take on some unsettling and difficult themes but still know how to inspire, challenge, and entertain. The stories tend toward the grimmer side of the works, drawing situations of familial loss, where women are put in situations of having to face old injustices, old wounds, all the while opening news ones. For all the works tend toward bleak, though, I think both do leave room for hope, but a hope that needs to be worked for, that isn’t necessarily going to be easy. And the poetry is a lovely mix of moods and tunes, forms and patterns. But it makes for a continuation on a wonderful issue, and I’ll get right to my reviews!
|Art by Lorna Antoniazzi|
“She Lies an Island” by Michelle Payne (short story)
No Spoilers: Blair grew up on the stories of her grandmother, stories of an Ireland she had escape, one filled with the shadow cast by an abusive, alcoholic father, but also with the magic that got her through the toughest moments and that sticks with her even years later. After her grandmother passes, it’s on Blair to remember the stories, the magic, the fables and myths and secrets. And, when a real giant is discovered (and killed) in Ireland, it’s on Blair to revisit Ireland and pay her grandmother’s respects to a being who might have been her best friend. The piece is full of longing and time, Blair feeling old despite not even being thirty years old. The trip is an excuse to have some fun, to live finally, but that’s complicated by the realities of the place, the giant, and the history that led her to this moment.
Keywords: Giants, Ireland, Travel, Sex, Tourism, Family
Review: This story has such a great layering of dormancy. Blair, who feels that she hasn’t really lived her life, who has tasted the magic of her grandmother’s stories but neither wholly believes in them nor is able to fully escape the allure of them. They are caught with them, with other people’s stories, never having really made her own, feeling that she’s already basically out of time, that she’s an old woman herself for all that she’s full of an old woman’s stories. She goes to Ireland to live a bit, to have sex and be a bit more rash. And she does indeed accomplish that, even as the trip as a whole takes on something of a melancholy tone, her adventure cut by the tragedy of what has happened, the presumed death of this giant. For her, it’s like the death of this giant should mean a death of the past, a new opening of possibilities. But like with the Island, with the dead giant who has opened up a lot of areas to research and for tourism and things like that, it seems a bit more than it is. Because the past isn’t dead, and it’s not a weight on the present, either. These stories, this giant, isn’t something to celebrate the passing of. Though Blair goes looking for a way to liven up her sex life, what she finds instead is something powerful, something abused and misunderstood, something hibernating who wakes to pain and indignity and decides that things need changing. For me, that awakening might mirror one in Blair as well, a shifting of her own priorities, and a way for her to reclaim her present, not seeing it as something already passed. Not seeing herself as old any longer, but vital, never too late to start living the way she wants. It’s a moving and powerful read, and one quiet but for moments of thunderous noise and upheaval and violence. One alive, finally, with purpose and desire, ready to stomp whatever might get in the way, or eat it whole. A wonderful read!
“Keeping Her” by Sheila Massie (short story)
No Spoilers: Told between two alternating perspectives, the story reveals a witch in the present, moving into a haunted house, and a woman in the past, having a child out of wedlock, forced to try and care for it on her own despite the child being sickly, despite everything. The piece converges on the house, on the child, on the ghost of not just the person who barely got a chance to be, but the pain and hurt and tragedy of what happened and what seeped into the bones of the house, into its heart. The witch must reconnect with the ghost even as, in the past, the mother must come to terms with what happens to her and her child. The story is difficult and deep, wrenching and uncomfortable in how intimately it shows the pain that resides in the house, the anger and the desire to do something when for some things there are no balms, not forgettings, and no moving ons except to move away.
Keywords: Witches, CW- Pregnancy, CW- Death of a Child, CW- Abuse, Ghosts
Review: I like how the two different narratives dovetail in the same imagery, in the idea of walking away from this house, these two women separated by a good amount of time finding that in some ways that distance is a lot smaller than it might seem. It’s not like the present of the witch is all that accepting, is all that kind and compassionate. People are cruel to her for trying to help this ghost, for going out with its body, for trying to bring it to rest. She can’t, because that stigma, the same that ultimately killed it, is too strong, still. The sentiment that would push a woman into hiding, that would push the people around her to confine her, to prevent her from receiving care. The situation is heartbreaking, both in the past and in the present the witch lives in, both women wanting to do more but, ultimately, unable to really get justice for the child, unable to get freedom for their child. Which leaves the ghost, still lingering, still there, inhabiting the house, perhaps waiting for a time when they can be released, when they won’t face the same limitations, when they can be accepted by the world at large, given the freedom they need to move on, to heal from what has been done to them. Failing that, it seems that all that the mother and the witch can do is walk away, the task beyond their power, having to decide to save themselves or else become a part of that pain, that anger, and that haunting of the house. It’s a difficult piece, and not one that offers a huge amount of hope or comfort, except that people keep trying. But single people just aren’t enough. The change has to be bigger, the hope larger, and so the piece seems a goad for just that, a call to push for larger changes, to exorcise the ghosts haunting so many places around the country and world. It’s a fantastic read!
“The Stone Circle” by Isobel Granby
This piece seems to tell the story of a man who begins a boy enchanted by a stone circle, a place that seems perhaps to be a gateway, a thin place where magic beings might enter the human realm. And he spends his days hoping to catch a glimpse of them, to be invited into their games, their dance, their hunts. Meanwhile he’s living, with one eye on the lookout for the strange and magical, but he lives his life, has a family, a home that’s filled with laughter of his wife and child. The things that everyone seems to want. And yet he still looks. And I don’t think the piece paints his as greedy for looking, for wanting, for wishing. The magic that borders on his life is a pull, a desire he can’t quite wrap logic around. it’s just there n all its raw strangeness, the wonder, the magic, the danger yes but a sense of jubilation, of dance and song and hunts that don’t have to stop, that never hurt. And for me there’s a feel of...not of disappointment really. His life is rich and he seems to enjoy it, to love deeply, to only be caught at times looking, in the quiet moments, at the hill and all it represents. Little knowing that his life might already have been touched by the magic, that his wife, who he thinks just an ordinary woman, might be a sort of answer to his prayers, one that doesn’t let itself be known and seen until he’s older, and ready at last to join in the dance, to leave the rest of the world behind, to join into that realm he’s dreamed of, and wished after. And it’s a fun piece, with a great building feel and a triumphant release of an ending, joyous and loud and rising. A wonderful read!
“Diptych of Summers Past” by Isabel Yang
Poems like this always represent something of a unique challenge and joy, because they open themselves up to so many different readings, the question the reader must ask being which brings them more, which allows them a fuller picture, and what to the smaller pictures add to the whole. Because for me there is no real “correct” way of reading the poem, the elegance, the awesomeness in part that it exists simultaneously as two columns to be read separately and as one piece that spans the divide between them. For me, I love the way it all wraps together, capturing for me the sort of complicated and at times disjointed feeling of summer. It’s aspects and its joys, it’s disappointments and its bittersweetness. There’s something about the piece that really seems to speak to a kind of nostalgia, a person trying to capture the feel of something that was never exactly real, that felt the way it did because it happened in relative freedom, outside of school, full of weather that promised outside, and possibilities. And there’s a sensuality to the piece that I really like, the way that it evokes ripe fruit and bodies, juice on lips and dribbling from chins. A sort of sweet that might be a bit too much, that might round the corner from idyllic, romantic, fresh, into something more rotten, less pleasant. For me the piece really hits the way that memories both paint a rosy picture of the past, and especially summers, with the summer romances, the vacations, the adventures, but also remember the way that things are all bigger. More dramatic. The negative can be intensified along with the positive, and it makes the nostalgia about those times clash with some of the intense and unpleasant memories. The way that it all measures or doesn’t measure to the now, however many years later. It’s all balanced across the divide, the middle space all the things unremembered, lost, but still here, a presence even if there’s nothing to make out. It weaves together into a strange but compelling picture, a familiar feel of heat and sun and hope and hurt. A great read!
“Crochet Rest” by Jade Riordan
This is a strange poem for me, one where the narrator seems to morph and stretch, to change as they settle into the rhythms of the piece, the flow of it. They speak of crocheting, and in some ways it seems like that crocheting becomes a kind of cosmic creation, the rests built into the patterns of the make but also sort of jiving with the idea of divine rest. And the piece blends dreams and reality, bodies and landscapes, to interesting effect, in essence maybe asking if the narrator is dreaming themself into that sort of cosmic oneness or if that’s where they’re starting and the dreams give them a different kind of rest, a break from the pressures to create. Whatever the case, I like the way the poem gets into its pace, its flow, moving through time and through space, bringing the narrator out of their body and into a wider space, the feel one of release, one of letting down, one of, well, rest. And I just like how it all lands, how it comes together. How it draws the ways in which creative, constructive work like crocheting can sort of make everything else drop away. Can be transforming, a body spilling out in yarn, weaved into the fabric of the universe. The piece hits in this punchy little couplets, each one separated by space but also spanning those spaces, not actually coming to a piece of ending punctuation that caps a couplet until the ending. It creates a momentum for me and something like a hypnotic sway, that cadence carrying through, moving all the way to the ending, which it pauses, where it lets out that longer breath, all while ending on the idea of waking life, that impossible time between dreams, kind of flipping the script, where people expect that to be the time to toil, the time to act, while here the work seems constrained to dreams, where rest is for waking, for getting ready to dream again. An interesting and fabulous read!