Today I'm reviewing the latest issue of the revived Farrago's Wainscot, which has its second issue of new life this month. The first issue was certainly strange and this issue continues with the idea of the literary weird. This issue benefits from having stories with a bit more structure to them, though, a bit more of a standard narrative. Not that the bizarre structures that the stories in the last issue were bad, but that I found this batch of stories to be a bit easier to understand and get meaning from. Which made them more satisfying. The poetry is quite good again, with some long pieces mixed in with the shorter ones. All in all, four stories and four poems and a quite satisfying experience. To the reviews!
"All Her Buzzing Eyes" by Willow Fagan (2859 words)
Mixing Hamlet with a science fiction setting, this story is a bit unsettling, told by Ophelia and giving her a bit more mystery and importance than she ever had in the play. Here her madness is not madness, is not grief from being spurned by Hamlet but a side effect of a radical surgery that was meant to save her after Hamlet stabbed her through a curtain (always stabbing people through curtains, that boy). Half of her face was replaced by a machine, one that can see the past and future but one that doesn't really do a good job interfacing with her brain, because she has visions and can't quite figure out when things are taking place. Still, Ophelia here is bitter and potent, a prophet of things to come and a mirror by which the injustices of the play are seen. She always got the worst treatment in Hamlet, and here she can say something about that, though her condemnations are all ignored or mistaken for nonsense. But more it's that people want to believe that she is crazy rather than right. They want to believe that she is weak and stupid and that she kills herself because Hamlet spurned her. But the ending gives her something more to do, resurrects her electronically and gives her power that she was always denied in life. Good stuff.
"Dance Our Shoes to Pieces" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (3560 words)
A fairy tale where twelve sisters escape their oppressive father every night to go dancing in a magical realm, this story is a bit sad, a bit longing, but also a bit stubborn and hopeful. The sisters escape to the magical realm and the princes that love them is cut off when a suitor catches them in the act and takes away the oldest daughter and the king barricades the door to the magical realm. Without the dancing, without the princes, the sisters wither. Without the release of the dancing they are prisoners, and begin to long for an escape more permanent lest they, too, be given away to men and forever separated. So the devise a way to regain the magic realm, and escape through the door and try to find their princes again. But all they find through the portal is pain and sorrow, for the princes are no longer princes, have been transformed into beasts, and without their oldest sister they all are missing a vital part of themselves. Are missing a vital part of the magic. They cannot go back, cannot recapture that happiness. But it doesn't mean they can't dance. They take what freedom they can and what defiance they can and reaffirm each other and reaffirm their worth and their pain by dancing, by doing what brought them such joy even as their hopes were crumbling. It's not a happy story, but it's powerful and weighty. The sisters' plight is not uncommon: oppressed, objectified, told that embracing their own joy is sinful. They do not listen, and so manage a measure of release, but it's not an easy release. It's not a Disney fairy tale ending, exactly. It's grim, but it's also hopeful, because with what they had originally wanted out of reach, they are left to make up their own lives, to make their own way, and in that there is at least the freedom to dance. A fine story.
"Every Hand a Winner" by Romie Stott (3135 words)
This is a rather cute story about a spectral deck of cards and a woman being interviewed about them. And really, that spectral deck of cards is the hook that kept me interested from the start, because one just doesn't expect that. But it works, this deck of cards that is sometimes invisible. That this woman finds and that she comes to use for cheating at poker. Until she gets into a game with a man who isn't what he seems, a man who knows what the cards are. A man who was probably the owner of the cards. Whether that's a ghost or the devil isn't incredibly clear, but the way around the dilemma is clever and charming and I just really liked it. It's a hilarious ending, one that had me chuckling, and I really liked the tone and voice throughout. The main character is a fun person, a bit down on her luck, a bit irresponsible and perhaps having a few undiagnosed problems, but more than that she's just rather fun, taking life as it comes. Anyone who takes a haunted deck of cards as matter-of-fact is all right in my book, and the story does a fine job of following her around, showing how the cards draw her in, but also how she defeats them in the end. A refreshing story, with some great moments and a light, breezy feel that stuck the landing. Good times.
"The Days of Talking Mountains" by Paul Jessup (3276 words)
Definitely the weirdest of the four stories this issue, this story follows a woman who has to care for giant's that have been planted in the ground by a sort of cult she was born into. The cult, however, was almost entirely wiped out by a plague that came from the giant heads. Now it's only her and her brother to tend things and to remember, and the woman is tired of it. Tired of the rituals and the memories. Tired of doing things that she can't feel good about. Keeping the giants seems to be doing them no good, and it's boring and stressful. They seem to have been taken from their homes and planted against their wills and so she wants to free them. But her brother doesn't want that. He wants things to continue, for the cult to keep going because he was old enough to have pledged himself for the cult. He's the successor to the Master, and the woman sees that and knows that she has to act. And so she does. It's an interesting and rather bizarre story, but I liked the mood and I liked that even freeing the giants did not really release the two survivors from their bonds. That the wounds go deeper than that and have to do with the brother being like the Master, having the eyes that seem to hunger for power. It was the drive of the original Master that caused the giants to be planted, so it's not a good sign that his eyes have spread. A weird story with some good visuals and an interesting style. Indeed.
"Cremona" by Bruce Bond
This poem seems to be about music and the inability to reproduce those things that make instruments truly special and great. That with our science we cannot really define what makes the best instruments the best. That there is an art to it and that art defies definition. That by trying to put value and numbers to it all we do is kill the art, is take away it's power. It's a short poem, structured into lines that in some ways mirror that naming, as the lines are all about even, giving the poem a restrained look to it, a uniformity that goes along with that idea of naming. There are a number of sentences within the poem, varying in length but either six, three, or one line. The single line sentences are the ones that give the poem most of its punch, most of its power. The entire piece works quite well, but those single line ideas are definitely the most impacting, the images and ideas strongest. It's a nice poem, short and to the point and dealing with art (music in this case, which I enjoy). A fine poem.
"Leaving the Garden" by Joelle Jameson
There's an openness to this story, a separation that is mirrored in the text and form of the poem. The form is airy, with couplets broken by hard returns, by blank space above even as the poem keeps its flow from couplet to couplet so that most of the blank spaces are bridged by the flow of the poem. Like the stone that the narrator is holding together, those two halves, the poet holds the lines together, and yet the break is certain, undeniable. The poem fosters that idea of lingering, of holding on, as if the will of the reader, the reader's voice, is what keeps everything together, and that last line lets the poem fall apart as the narrator must leave behind the stone and the garden. Because they cannot linger any longer. Because some things have to be let go, even if they are painful, even if the loss seems too much and what we want is to hold on stubbornly to the past. It's a nice poem, spaced well and with a resonance that I quite enjoyed.
"Brilliant Cannibal" by Robert Lunday
This is a long poem, and one that centers on an old filmmaker who has made a sort-of deal with the devil and now lives by himself in a remote house, not quite human any longer, trapped in the memories of what he was and what he did and it's a very trippy poem, one that I'm not quite sure what's going on, but it's also a compelling poem, this character of the old filmmaker who lives mostly alone and who kills whoever comes to visit him until this last visitor. Until someone comes to try and find someone else who died there, and uncovers not the murder or the body but the corpse of the filmmaker's career, his old films and his old life. He's just a shade as he narrates, having lost touch with the world, with himself. He's a shade and definitely in his darkness he is a shadow lurking, a thing kept alive by his small fame and nothing more, something of a vampire in his seclusion. It's difficult to do the poem justice because it is quite long and covers a lot of ground. But my general impressions are that it has a great flow and some haunting imagery and is just generally a little creepy. A fine read and worth getting all the way though.
"Earthly Paradise" by Brian Glaser
This is a rather lengthy poem broken into sections, each describing the way people relate to nature, to the natural world. That Earthly Paradise speaks of how people interact and value the natural world, from the caging of lions and the extinction of the passenger pigeon to the awe at seeing the birth of a foal to the sexual pleasure of a crow in the sun and the dark terror of shadows. It's a nice poem, loosely structured so that each section is a little different, highlighting the varied aspects of nature, the ordered and the wild, and the varied reactions to it from people. I quite liked the bit about the hunter admiring the hawk, that noise that was unintelligible and yet expressive, the way that people are like that, the way that they can take and appreciate, the way that people have strange ways of glorying nature. In some ways the poem evokes things like Frost and Whitman, seeing something haunting in nature, but probably more like Frost because the human element is so present and nostalgic, the way the poet seems to recognize the detachment from nature and feel a bit sad about it, missing something, and yet in a way that makes for a lonely sort of beauty. A good poem, and worth reading through for fans of nature-poetry. Indeed.