|Art by Jade Zhang|
A new issue of Anathema Magazine brings with it four short stories and two poems, the works mixing despair and joy, trauma and resilience. It starts off with a heavy piece about assault and trust and relationships before segueing into a much more joyful and light read (which nonetheless ends with a devastating force). From there it gets grim once more before closing on a sense of hope and wonder. The issue captures danger and the happiness that live hand in hand for many queer people of color, a living truth that is presented here without apology or hesitation. It’s on the reader to read with the same bravery, finding the beauty and meaning and impact in the works here. To the reviews!
“Still Water” by Ian Muneshwar (6000 words)
No Spoilers: Miles and Trent are taking a counselor-suggested trip to Miles’ family cabin along a large river in the hopes of working out some relationship issues in this story. Or...maybe more to find out what has happened to their relationship, which they had opened up only for things to quick go very wrong. For Miles, he’s grappling with guilt and shame, violation and intimacy aversion, and it’s not like Trent doesn’t have some problems of his own, including a fear of deep waters. Which means a kayak trip on the river sounds like a great idea, right? It’s a story ripe with pain and silence, where these two men are struggling to navigate not only the waters they find themselves on, but the choppy currents of their love and pain.
Keywords: Relationships, Counseling, CW- Rape, Rivers, Queer MC
Review: This story does a wonderful bit of layering with Miles and Trent’s relationship and their time on the river. They are in a state of crisis, their trust in each other and themselves strained. They are being pulled by these forces, by a current that seems to be taking them apart. That almost has permanently separated them. And to me Miles at least is expecting the breakup to happen, doesn’t really believe that they will get through this. But he’s coming from this place of deep pain and conflict, where he hasn’t been dealing with his feelings surrounding this sexual assault, and he doesn’t really know what to do about it. So it pulls him and Trent further and further apart until he can get over that and open up about what happened and try to maybe find where they stand now. And for me there’s a beautiful exploration of how relationships change, how trauma and lies and just time can alter how two people relate to each other and what they mean to each other. The story brings them through these strong currents together, neither willing to give in, both striving so hard to stick with the other. But what they had in many ways is gone, is sunk. And they have to let it go so that they don’t drown with it. The challenge and the goal now is to find out what their new status quo is, and to build something back up together, if that’s what they want, so they can keep moving forward. It’s a complex and sensual piece, literary and light speculative, but also gorgeous and rending and so so good. Go read this one immediately. Fantastic!
“A House With a Home” by Jon Mayo (4050 words)
No Spoilers: Lester and Arturo are looking for a new home, and something about one particular house seems to speak to them. Or, well, in Arturo’s case, does literally speak to him. It’s something that Lester thinks of as a quirk his husband has, but it becomes something more than that when Lester hears the house they’ve bought might be haunted. The piece is sweet and fun, charming and with a great domestic feel to it. Lester and Arturo have a harmonious relationship, which you might think wouldn’t make for good drama, but if you think that you’re probably not as starving for stories of queer couples allowed to be happy. And there’s still plenty to tug at the ole heartstrings, and the ending is beautiful and cruel at the same time.
Keywords: Ghosts, Games, Family, Unfinished Business, Queer MC
Review: *Sniff* Shut up, you’re crying. Seriously, this story is delightful, a beautifully built portrait of a very unconventional family. One where Arturo is a nurse-turned-administrator, Lester is a house husband writer, and Sam is the ghost who lives with them, who has some serious trust issues but starts to open up to the men who have moved into his home. And I love that the piece just shows this family being together and doing things and caring for each other and it’s just so sweet! As someone who rarely gets to see something quite so...you know, I almost hate to call it fluffy but that’s kind of it. Not that the writing isn’t good (it builds quite well and I love Lester’s voice and the banter that goes on), and really I want to push back against the idea that a story can’t be a little fluffy and still be moving and wonderful. Because there is something heartbreaking and heartwarming both about the situation, these men finding this ghost boy and giving him the home and safety and love that he never had and that it’s enough to pass on, that being loved was his unfinished business...and there goes the tears again. It’s this great look at a queer marriage and family that just sort of works in a rather neat way. As much as I am also a fan of messy relationships, this one is a joy of behold, and the piece builds to the devastating but poignant moment where they have to balance the fact that they helped this boy move on with the sorrow and grief they feel because they really did love him. It’s a fantastic read!
“Soul Sisters” by Brandann R. Hill-Mann (3375 words)
No Spoilers: Tab is a woman who needs a way out. Who needs safety. Who is trapped by the ways society has decided it can’t help her, can’t protect her. So she’s trapped, in danger constantly. But there’s still somewhere she can do. Still a kind of help she can get, even if it comes at a price. The piece is defined largely by choice, but more specifically about having to make choices when there are no perfect outcomes. When choosing any direction is going to end with violence, with death. It’s a piece that carries with it a sort of lightness, an easing of burdens, even as it carries a sharp edge as well. The violence of the piece is immediate, visceral, and realistic. The story allows for Tab a way out other than the usual ones reserved for women in her situation, aided by a deadly magic.
Keywords: Bargains, Wyrms, CW- Domestic Abuse, Hunger, Feeding
Review: In some ways the piece reads like a vampire story. Tab has to make a choice in order to take enough power to deal with her situation herself because the regular authorities actively want her to be abused. They don’t see her as a full person, more as property to be treated however her partner decides. She doesn’t have rights, and so she makes her own from magic and need, anger and fear. And it comes with a hunger, a thirst for violence that can only be quenched by the taking of life, by the draining of a life force. For Tab, it means that she is finally able to settle with the man who has been abusing her, controlling her. Who takes so much from her. She is able to turn the tables here, unleashing all the words that she’s been too afraid to say and letting herself embrace the hunger inside of her. In that it’s not a super happy story, but I do think that it gets beyond just being about revenge. For me, it’s not about revenge so much as it is about freedom. Tab allows her partner every opportunity to back down, to let her go. But he doesn’t. Time and again he refuses, even when he is faced with the prospect that she can hurt him, that she can kill him. There’s a part of him that just can’t believe that he’s not the strongest, that he won’t win over her. And that’s the toxic element that pushes so much abuse, that many men are convinced that there is a hierarchy and that they know it and can manipulate it. But it doesn’t leave room for something to come along that is more powerful than them. So that when it does they can’t recognize it, can’t see the danger. Not that it’s anything but the fault of these men. It’s a justice that they should have to perish by the system they created, where the only thing that’s important is power and will. It’s a difficult, slightly brutal piece, but I definitely think it’s worth spending some time with. A fine read!
“A Patch of Night” by S. J. Fujimoto (1925 words)
No Spoilers: A being flies through space, amorphous and alone and not really bothered about that. Until, at least, they meet someone, a strange traveler who can open doors in space, who takes this being to a quiet countryside to show them the meaning of a name. Only there are dangers for this being that become evident, that threaten to destroy them, but in doing that also give them a new purpose. It’s a story full of space and skies and stars, of tiny lights far distant, and unexpected friendships. It’s fun and energetic and builds a sort of innocence in the narrator that really shines.
Keywords: Stars, Night, Flight, Space, Friendship, Cities
Review: I do like the energy of this piece, the voice of this being out in the darkness who meets someone and is changed by the meeting. Whose horizons are expanded not least because they get to change their perspective in order to appreciate a horizon. A terrestrial existence. Even if it’s jarring and full of dangers. Even if it almost kills them. The premise is strange and striking, this character relatable for me because of their isolation, because of the distance that they prefer, that they need from the bright lights. They are a being of darkness and space, an introvert who still finds that they value friendship a great deal. Because they’ve been missing out on exploring the fullness of the universe, the great diversity that it has to offer. They’ve always had a perspective pulled back, cloud-like and free. But they are shown how constraint can give new layers to experience, how they embody the night with its distant stars and its beauty and its serenity. Only when exposed to the bright and confusing lights of a city do they find the danger, and even then it doesn’t cause them to shrink back to what they were. I like that the story acknowledges that they are different for all of this, cannot unsee what they have seen, and that they want to strike a balance between the distance they need and the friendship and connections they find they want. That they choose to work to bring greater awareness of the night, of the calming dark, is a nice touch, and I like how it gives them purpose, how it shapes them to try and foster an appreciation as they have for night and all its mysteries. Because in those who can appreciate the night they might find new friends. A great read!
“Pendant” by Joyce Chng
This piece speaks to me of inheritance and time, where the narrator is the last of a line of people. What’s happening isn’t exactly certain, just that the narrator can send an end coming. A departure that leaves them alone. For me, the imagery in the first half of the poem speaks to a decline, though I’m not sure what the cause of it might be. It seems like most of the rest of the people in the area left on ships toward some unknown fate. The narrator remained as a sort of chronicle, a living history, a way of maintaining a connection to the place. They have a pendant, an item of great importance, though once again it’s hard to say what exactly it does. What is certain is that when other people arrive, they are hungry from the pendant. Angry. Violent. And despite being the last, despite believing that they were meant to stay in this place and maintain the connection, they flee. They flee, and where they go is once again not entirely clear. But I do like the way the poem uses uncertainty, never quite giving enough information for me to get the entire picture, but giving details enough that the shape of something emerged. So that I felt this travel at the end is after those ships that left already. That the narrator isn’t betraying their family, but rather embracing that the pendent and the history are no less valuable or real removed from their home. That as long as they carry the pendant, and remembers, then home is something they can take with them. For me, at least, it’s about resilience and memory, holding to the strength and hope instilled by history rather than being tied physically to a place or time. It’s a complex but powerful read, and very much worth spending some time with!
“Seventeen Days” by A.Z. Louise
Well this is a case of context being a bit key, because my first reading of this poem felt much different than when I decided to spend a few minutes seeing if I could find out a layer I was missing. And lo! Yes, yes I was. And lo! The poem is much, much creepier with the context. I will admit, if I hadn’t had the internet at the time of reading this poem I likely would have just sort of puzzled over “scaphist” for a while and then decided it was an adjective that wasn’t crucial to understand and moved on. And I would have found the work strange and a bit haunting, yes, but I wouldn’t really have understood what was going on, that the narrator of the poem is being executed (or sacrificed) using a method of torturous murder that is brutal and disturbing. A murder that lasts for weeks (the title I would guess refers to the number of days it reportedly takes to die). And capturing that surreal experience of a person dying in this horrible and gruesome manner (really, go look up scaphism) in these beautiful terms is intense and wrenching. The narrator describes the night, where perhaps they are free from the worst of their torment, but they know what is coming, know what is waiting for them, and they seem here to be splintering somewhat. Delirious or desperate or broken, they imagine a goddess over them, around them. One who provides them with moments of clarity and light but one who is also certainly going to be a part of their death. A sun who is going to bake them, going to witness their suffering in silence. It’s a bit of a grim read, though short and luminous. What remains after reading it is a deep uneasiness, and a sort of mute horror for me. Now, it’s also possible that it’s not supposed to be read so literally, that it’s not a literal death being witnessed here, but even so it is a razor-sharp read, strange and haunting and worth digging into. A wonderful read!