Thursday, April 19, 2018

Quick Sips - Apex #107

The April stories from Apex Magazine are all about the toxicity of place and the inability to make good decisions in a broken system. Especially when you are vulnerable. Especially when you’re not meant to be a person with power. The stories look at how people in these situations strive to gain the freedom to make their own decisions, to control their own lives, only to find again and again any attempt to resist the system from the inside is co-opted and corrupted. And any attempt to get away from the system is prevented or resisted. Because these systems want victims, what those who can’t fight back. People still do, though, and the issue has a great assortment of stories that look at how difficult it is to reach for change when every avenue for reform seems to lead back to the same old hurts. To the reviews!

Art by Chase Hensen

“Clap Your Hands” by Andrew F. Kody (3300 words)

No Spoilers: Five is a boy being raised by his abusive father, a revival priest named Brother Ted Gunderson. Five is brought up to know that he is a murderer (on account of his birth having caused the death of his mother), and it’s for this reason that Five is denied compassion and decency. He is treated poorly, forced to bury everything that he loves, and yet when someone shows him genuine kindness he manages to do something that even his father isn’t capable of—real healing. Of course, it doesn’t turn out to be the blessing it might have been. Intensely bleak and full of ugliness, the story is difficult and not exactly happy. Five’s journey is one tainted by the people who surround him—people all too willing to salvation for themselves even as they preach damnation for all others.
Keywords: Revival Tent, Faith Healing, Miracles, Sin, Murder
Review: I think the largest part of the darkness in this story for me comes from what Five might have been capable of had he not been stuck in the situation he was stuck in—if he had a different family. Because being actually able to heal people is a great gift, and I feel like had that been allowed to flourish then it could really have done some good. However, the story focuses very keenly on how impossible it can be to do good when the soil you are grown from is toxic. Five grows up with this original sin that prevents him from really having anything he can enjoy or hold onto. The religion of his father is not one of forgiveness, but righteous anger and damnation. And because of that, despite liking Jesus and those stories, it’s religion that ends up pushing Five down his lonely and violent road. For me, it’s not an especially pleasant read. The setting is rather hopeless and the characters are cruel and stuck in these patterns of hurt and swindle, murder and abuse. But it does show that it’s very difficult to escape the pressure of how others see you, is hard to shrug off original sin so long as you are surrounded by believers. It’s an uncomfortable read that I recommend you check out and make your own mind up about.

“The Sharp Edges of Anger” by Jamie Lackey (2200 words)

No Spoilers: Rose is a girl who doesn’t want to get rid of her anger, despite how she is told she must, that all women must. Instead, she uses her anger to act, and in return she is punished again and again, each time pushed to accept the way things are. This is abuse that is passed down from all sides, from a mother who has made these decisions and from the men all around her who benefit from her giving up her anger. Even embracing her own anger, though, does not mean that her life follows a hopeful trajectory. Because of the way the world is structured, there is no really hopeful option open to her. Bleak, draining, and sharp in its darkness.
Keywords: CW- Pregnancy, CW- Suicide, Anger, Abuse, Gender Roles
Review: This is another story that focuses very much on how options in a corrupt system based largely on abuse for those facing that abuse. For Rose, who just wants to be let to keep her anger and to act on the injustices that she sees around her, the rest of the world cannot be safe. Because, essentially, she can’t escape the unfairness of the gender roles being put on her. That she must be made weak in order to be controlled. That she must be robbed of her anger, infantilized, constantly monitored and punished. She holds no power in this setting, really. Her consent is not needed to get married, to get pregnant, to anything. And so it’s little surprise that she can’t just happily accept things. That she cannot love anything about this thing that’s hurting her. Really the only thing she can control is her own death, really, and even that is something that others seek to rob her of. It’s a disturbing story and one aimed very squarely at the double standards about women’s anger. The setting is brutal and the way the piece makes anger physical is interesting and richly explored. It’s dark and intense and one that, again, I think people should check out for themselves. Indeed.

“Murders Fell From Our Wombs” by Tlotlo Tsamaase (7500 words)

No Spoilers: Game and Same are sisters living in a small village where murder seems to be abundantly common, happening every month once Game starts getting periods. And somehow the periods and the murders are linked, because Game experiences the murders as both victim and killer. She dreams them as they happen. As she grows, the murders touch every part of her life, take important people from her, until she’s on the verge of escape, of going away for school with her sister. Only it seems that escaping the dreams, the murders, isn’t as easy as she had hoped. With a blend of isolation and a yearning for change, to have access to a different story than the same old misogyny, the story is carried by a voice flitting between rage and hurt and hope.
Keywords: Murder, Dreams, Menstruation, Gender Roles, Films, Sisters
Review: The story takes a somewhat meta slant in that it directly addresses and engages with the tropes and depictions of women in films and stories and media. The way that they are always victims, always murdered. And this frame is what dominates the sisters’ lives growing up. The hurt they suffer because of it and their collective desire to escape it. To pull free of the toxic narrative that makes them only victims. There’s a magic at work, though, that means that Game’s dreams continue, as she doesn’t seem to have the power to get rid of them, to destroy the cycle and the story, then she does what she can to alter it. And here we find that even changing it so that men are the victims and women the killers doesn’t solve things, because the system as a whole is still broken. It just means that women go from dead to in prison, which is definitely bad, too. It shows that in this system there is no winning. Game, in trying to win, in trying to play better, only continues along, and Same is lost because of it. Which is not to say that the story is hopeless. I love how the piece imagines the “solution.” Which is to move away. Which is to stop playing. To be allowed to have control over her periods, and her body, and her future. It’s owning herself and her actions and having some power and some freedom. And it’s an ending that shows that these stories that make women into victims are not rising up from the ether. They are designed and implemented in order to maintain the status quo. In order to maintain male dominance. And the story does a great job of questioning those stories and bringing Game to a place where she can begin to tell her own narrative. Which doesn’t mean she can completely escape the stories that have hurt her, but that maybe she can still find a way forward regardless. A fantastic read!


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