Monday, August 7, 2017

Quick Sips - The Dark #27

August brings a pair of rather strange stories to The Dark Magazine, including one that’s much longer than I’m used to from the publication. Both stories look at different kinds of hunger, different ways that the main characters seek to fill up an emptiness inside them. For both characters, the emptiness has something to do with the loss of their mothers when they were quite young. For one, that loss is a trauma that he can’t seem to heal from. For the other, the loss opens up a void that cannot be filled, that is filled with anger and uncertainty. These are stories that do a good job exploring place and grief, the characters trying to find some map to lead them toward peace and fulfillment. How the characters follow those maps, though, is quite different. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Tomislav Tikulin

“Ghostling” by E. Catherine Tobler (3704 words)

This story seems to me to be about ghosts and about trauma, about a man named Welsh and the ways he is haunted. The story opens in striking fashion with the idea of Welsh fucking ghosts, using them and being used by them to both reach for and avoid the specter of his mother, who was murdered when he was a boy. He’s kinda-sorta supposed to be looking for her, for her spirit—at least that seems to be what Lisa, his friend, believes. But Welsh instead is something of a ghost himself, transformed at the witnessing of the murder into something less than wholly human. And I love that about the story, that it presents this way that Welsh has been shaded back, his future stripped from him because he never really recovers and heals from this one moment. And because he is something of a ghost himself, he can see ghosts. Can interact with them. Can make bargains with them and fuck them. And for their parts the ghosts are willing participants, trading their bodies for his, wanting something to feel whole and right despite the pain it causes. It’s a strange story but a beautiful one as well, showing Welsh trapped in this cycle, not really sure how to proceed but knowing that something needs to happen. I like how he gets distracted by the idea of sacrifice, thinking that he might need to give up something in order to get what he needs, when really what he seems to really need is an amount of forgiveness and an amount of peace. Eventually he learns that he can’t run away from the moment of seeing his mother killed and what he might be looking for is not her ghost, but his own. And it really is just a lovely story about dealing with trauma and learning how to move on and find some measure of peace in a world filled with angry spirits. A fantastic read!

“Skins Smooth as Plantain, Hearts Soft as Mango” by Ian Muneshwar (7385 words)

This is a strange story about homes and family’s, about hunger and pain. For Harry, life is something of a running battle against a beast that lives within him, that can make him feel intense pain whenever it wants, that can make him feel intense hunger as well. It’s something that Harry tries to fight against by keeping food on hand to sate the beast, but his life is still a quiet one, his father the British manager of a sugar mill and his mother dead. The nature of the beast is something of a mystery, its origin steeped in hunger and need and the will to survive. Harry is something of the opposite, driftless mostly, living in a compound without really understanding anything about it, hungry but not knowing want, really, because of who he is. The story moves around the growing tensions around the sugar mill, a conflict that Harry again doesn’t really understand and yet is in the middle of, torn between the different worlds of his dead mother and his father. He is both foreign and native, and there’s something in that which the beast fits as well, always a part of Harry and yet separate as well. And it’s difficult at times to tell what is the beast’s hunger and what is Harry’s. Because Harry is hungry, too. For connection to his mother and to people. He is so isolated in his compound, locked away from knowing what is really going on and yet expected to take his place as the manager of the mill, passing as white even as he’s related to the people he would be helping to exploit. It’s a difficult situation and I like how the story brings it back to this image of a lungfish, this all-consuming hunger that even eats memories. That is transforming. That allows Harry to try and define himself, finally deciding to let his hunger guide him, not the beast’s. His hunger for community and connection. His need to find a place that can be his. It’s a difficult read, but a very good one, and I definitely recommend you spend some time with it!


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