Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Quick Sips - The Dark #20

2017 has officially begun and my first review of new content in the new year is of The Dark Magazine, which continues to put out a pair of original stories alongside a pair of reprints. FYI they also have planned to restart podcasts and have a Patreon now, so anyone interested in some excellent speculative horror and dark fantasy, definitely check that out. Anyway, the years starts off a bit slow in this issue, with two pieces that explore the space between childhood and adolescence, between adolescence and adulthood. Between generations and between genders and between spaces. These are stories not anchored by action but by the slow turn of emotions and time, pressures and expectations. It's a lovely, almost nostalgic way to kick off the new year, and I'm ready to get to reviewing!


"Twilight Travels with the Grape-Paper Man" by Sara Saab (3848 words)

This is a slow and rather wrenching story about growing up and about loss and about expectations. It features Layal, a young girl who is taking a vacation at her grandmother's and not really looking forward to the future, or at the very least has very mixed feelings about it. She finds herself not fitting in, wanting to be herself and wanting to be someone else, someone big and strong and all the things she doesn't seem to be. And then a strange man comes and asks for her help in finding is face, and with Layal the two go on a sort-of adventure. The mood of the piece is almost nostalgic, Layal remembering summers playing with her male cousins and feeling like perhaps she fit in, but finding that as she aged the differences between them starting to grow. Not just that their bodies were different but that the expectations surrounding them were different, too. And Layal's relationship with herself, her body, and her future is what roots this story in its emotional landscape. Layal wants so much both to fit in and to stand out and she isn't sure exactly how to do either, which leaves her upset and angry. She wants to lash out at the things that are pushing at her, wants to rage against these changes even as they hold the allure of age and maturity. It's a striking piece and I like how Layal doesn't quite know what to think of everything, because the way that aging is treated in so many places is rather messed up, and young people are not encouraged to explore their genders or their desires. Indeed, if they try they often find that they are ridiculed and bullied by peers and adults alike. And the story has a nice weirdness to it in this quest for identity and the ultimate moment where Layal is faced with what the future can hold, the hope and the horror both, and the story does a great job of bringing the reader along to that moment and then sort of leaving them there—waiting, wondering. It's a lovely piece that's definitely worth checking out.

"Little Digs" by Lisa L. Hannett (5624 words)

This is another story about growing up and about the oppression of being expected to be something that really doesn't fit with how you feel, with how you are. This is also a story about generations, and about travel, and about boundaries. It takes place on a farm settled by a man who knew travel. Who ranged farm, and whose dreams outshone his abilities. But from him his family became tied to the spot, so that each following generation becomes a bit more bound to the land. It's also a story that uses magic and religion in an interesting way, the family and the settlement a mix of Christian and older, Norse beliefs. It creates a very interesting and stark atmosphere, a feeling of isolation for Bets, who becomes the main character, a young woman looking for any way out of the situation that she's in, away from the land and the constant stream of negativity and criticism from her parents. And I love how the story looks at generational change, how it is that families become stuck and how they turn on themselves. How people can go from valuing independence and bravery to being more interested in just holding property and traditions. It's especially interesting because while Bets' parents seem to think of themselves as keeping the family traditions alive, it's really Bets who keeps their spirit going, that drive to explore and to experience. It's a great examination of the pressures that can develop between parents and children, and how the young sometimes have to strike out on their own, to find out for themselves what t hey want and where they want to be. A fine story!


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