Thursday, April 25, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 04/15/2019 & 04/22/2019

The latest two issues of Strange Horizons bring a new short story and two new poems into the world, touching on language and grief, movement and gaze. The pieces follow in the wake of loss, revealing holes where people used to be. For some people, those holes represent a sort of unfillable gap, a vortex threatening to pull them under. For others, what grows to take that space can be something beautiful in its own right, a sort of freedom that comes if the situation before had been less than ideal. And for some it’s a mix, a mess of emotions and intentions and hurts, and the pieces treat all of this with care. So let’s get to the reviews!


“Water Through Our Hands” by Ross Showalter (5927 words)

No Spoilers: Maya is an ASL interpreter who has just lost her mother, a woman who has defined a good amount of her life. A week after her sudden passing, though, Maya is headed back to work at a university thinking that she’s recovered and ready for what comes next. It’s not just the grief that catches her unprepared, though, and the story is a slightly haunting and richly textured experience about healing and hurting and all points in between. Maya’s situation is wrenching, her pain and doubt and anxiety all reaching out from this hole left behind after her mother’s death, one that opens up so much uncertainty about her own identity and purpose that it threatens to swallow everything she’s built.
Keywords: Sign Language, Universities, Marriage, Grief, Loss, Telepathy
Review: I love the way the story builds around Maya and her grief, carving this sculptures of the two women that might seem at first to be a single entity. For Maya at least I feel this sense of being haunted, of having this moment where someone who has been such a big part of her life, who has shaped her in many ways, just isn’t there anymore. And it’s a shattering thing, because she’s left wondering about her identity, about her decisions, wondering if she’s lived her life for herself or if she’s just recreated her mother, become a reflection or shadow. She’s spent so much of her life trying to live up to her mother, to earn her praise and respect, and without that to shoot for anymore Maya is left wondering who she is and what she’ll do. And it manifests in this strange way, as a sort of superpower, as being able to hear what people are thinking. But really only about what she’s doing wrong, about how she might be failing. And I just love how she has to figure out how to move forward without the one person who sort of guided her. She’s spent her life interpreting, being the bridge between people, and it’s like she’s now in a situation where one of her banks is gone and she stranded, bridging nowhere, unable to really connect so long as she’s hanging over nothingness. It’s a careful and tender piece full of vulnerability and a steely resolve not to admit that she might have added needs because of her mother’s death. Because she’s supposed to be strong, stand on her own, be professional and all the things her mother wanted from her. But here the importance is put on her healing, and how much she needs some time and space to figure herself out, and feel something other than sorrow, and hope for something brighter than pain. It’s strange and lightly speculative, but a wonderful read!


“Witch Trails” by Oliver Smith

I like how immediately upon looking at the title my dyslexia kicked in and I then had to look at it a few times to realize that it was “trails” rather than “trials” and I think the effect works, changing something so small to play with expectations and to shift so much the feel and tone of the piece. Which is not to say that it’s a super happy poem, but the piece doesn’t really slip into the witch as someone who has been seized and now faces injustice. Nor does it really get into prejudice or a local population gathering up the torches and pitchforks. It looks at trails, at passage, in a way that is pastoral and moving, in a way that conveys all that this witch means to the narrator without necessarily focusing on the visceral fire and brimstone of a witch trial. Instead we get to see how this witch lived by the absence she leaves behind, by the quiet sorrow left in the wake of her, her trail one of unsaid goodbyes resulting in an air of grief and a kind of broken nostalgia. There’s a support for her, a mass and collective knowledge that everyone is a bit less for her being gone. And there is a kind of stunned unwillingness to fully accept it at work too, from the way that the narrator describes the ways the witch has gone away before and always returned. It’s a beautiful piece, vivid in the way that it conjures magic and care and love in this woman who never fully arrives, that we the reader get to know about in the trail of kindness and hope she walked and left behind. It’s a stellar way to defy expectations about what a poem about witches can focus on and it’s just a heartwarming, gentle read that you should definitely check out!

“Eurydice Stands with Attitude” by Rebecca Bennett

This piece speaks to me of body image the pressure to fit into the aesthetics of beauty, the shifting standards by which people, and especially women, are held to that for many determines their worth and their importance. The main character of the poem is Eurydice, but not exactly the figure from mythology, though in many ways till very true to that story. Or, imagine the character as a sort of more contemporary AU where Eurydice is a dancer, a ballerina, dealing with being judged for being fat by not only her dance instructors, but by Orpheus as well, who here feels like he’s her problematic boyfriend. The voice that is at the same time sugar-coated but poisonous. And the piece gets at the toxicity of the situation, of the culture that can’t imagine fat dancers being graceful or beautiful. That can only conceive of beauty being thin, of grace being light. And the piece for me pushes back against that, about the poison that is always waiting for Eurydice, the wan that the people around her are constantly waiting, fangs at the ready, to tear into her when all she wants to do is dance and feel the power and grace of her body, to be at peace with it and herself. For me it’s a poem about the waiting tragedy, yes, and the punishment that waits for those who break from the conventions of beauty and expectations. But also I think it plays with the question of if this is a tragedy or not, if maybe Eurydice wants Orpheus to look back, so that she might be able to escape him and his gaze. The same one that apparently dooms her, but here might give her a measure of freedom as well, away from the touch of his poison. It’s a dark read, full of mood and strength. Definitely a poem to check out!


No comments:

Post a Comment