“In Search of Stars” by Matthew Bright (5363 words)
This is a rather weird story about isolation and fear, hiding and a bit of Hollywood magic. The main character is living in LA, his work scientific and artistic both at once, developing a paint that can render people lighter than air, so that were they to be coated and let loose into the morning sky, they would just...float away. Which, it turns out, is exactly what he does to the men that he brings back to his apartment for company, for pleasure. And in many wyas the story seems to me to be about the need to hide, the need to fit in enough. The main character is nameless throughout, anonymous in a way because the reader knows things about him that could get him in trouble, that could get him arrested or killed. His life is on the margins, trying to get by while also yearning for something more, yearning for the courage to walk through a door that might admit him into something loud and magical and right. Only there is the feeling throughout the story that things aren’t quite what they seem, as if everything is painted by a thin layer of false glamour. The main character clings to his own realness, and yet does not feel secure, cannot relax or open up, even to those who have known him the longest. Which is where the story starts to deconstruct the main character’s world, bringing him so close to something that he wants, and yet knows that he can’t have. And the ending of the story is wrenching and beautiful at once. I love how the story treats everything, growing this strange magic the main character has created while showing just how flimsy reality itself can be, how like a movie set that some people spend their lives trying to escape. That for the main character so much is a performance, and that maybe finally he’ll come to a place where he doesn’t have to pretend, and can just be, and not be alone and scared anymore. A fantastic read!
“The Pond” by Aimee Ogden ( words)
Well shit. This is a devastating story about grief and love, hope and survival, and it may have broken my feels to some extent. The story centers Laura and Sana, who have experienced the loss of their son, Christopher, to a disease. The death has put a strain on their relationship, and in their desperation to get over what happened, to heal, they decided to have another child, only to find that it didn’t solve what they hoped it would. The tone and feel of the story is for me dense with the fog of hurt and grief. There is no real healing for Laura, and her own feeling that it should happen, that she should be “better,” that there needs to be a release from the pain of what happens, has made her sharp when dealing with Sana, and distant from her new daughter. When she starts to receive messages from her dead son, though...things reach a bit of a breaking point. The relationship between Laura and Sana is what dominates the story for me, even as it takes up very little actual space. The two women move around each other, avoid each other, and in their actions it’s clear to see that they want to go back to the way things were, and yet know that it’s not possible. Each holds the other partly responsible for what happened, and so blames the other for their current problems. Both blame themselves as well, and are desperate for both release from their guilt and freedom from the burden of the pain they feel. Instead they heap stress on stress, and drift further apart, and it’s difficult to watch, difficult to confront the great pain that has filled the hole left by the death of their son. The story is strange and magical, and doesn’t shrink away from showing a complex situation and relationship without flinching. And the ending...well, it’s something you’ll just have to experience on your won, full of weight and darkness and the feeling of drowning. Another amazing read!
“Nostalgia” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (reprint)
This is a slow and powerful story about growing up and being in love, about identity and fear and, well, nostalgia. And nostalgia here is a syrupy thing, thick as molasses, and for Tori it’s one of the few things that feels constant and secure. Nothing else in her life really does. She’s moved through life mostly based on the strength of other people’s convictions and desires, a string of lovers who have never really been committed to what she wanted. At least, until Kay, who is a slate, a person who (it seems to me) wants to escape gender markers. Tori herself isn’t entirely cool when it comes to Kay, her view of shur body and her identity rather clueless, though perhaps because Tori is so stuck in the past, not really wanting to move into a present or a future. The story itself follows Tori as she deals with her past and her feelings. Her being trapped by her unwillingness to commit herself in some direction, her failure to reach escape velocity. She’s not had an easy time of things, estranged from her family and stalked by an ex-boyfriend, still attached to her first girlfriend despite their relationship being over and not exactly the healthiest. But the story does a great job of being messy, of showing Tori in this soup of different old hurts and old hopes. She lives nearby the same town she grew up in, has gotten away but is still orbiting that past where everything seemed simpler, when it seemed like things would be easy. Similarly, she’s gotten away from her college friends as well, and yet hasn’t really moved on from there. At any moment a strong will threatens to pull her back into old patterns, which is made easier by Tori’s own desire to escape into the drug of nostalgia. It’s something that gets between Tori and Kay, and threatens the future that Tori might have if only she takes action and tries. And I love where the story goes will all of this, again offering no neat solution, no painless way forward. But it does leave room for healing and for hope that Tori can build a present and a future she’ll want more than the past that is gone forever. So yeah, definitely check this story out!