|Art by chainatp|
Both of the original stories in this month’s The Dark Magazine deal with stories, with fairy tales. One of them in a more meta, way, weaving a woman’s harrowing struggle into a song that she can sing into life to give herself the happy ending she needs. The other is more of a fairy tale retelling, taking the familiar shapes and characters and themes and boiling them down into something thick and hearty. The result is an issue that is very aware of the price that women often pay just to live, and the injustice of that price. Both works find characters breaking free from the cycle that seems poised to consume them, and finding room for family and for hope. To the reviews!
“Brigid Was Hung By Her Hair from the Second Story Window” by Gillian Daniels (3161 words)
No Spoilers: Brigid is a young woman who crosses the Atlantic to America after receiving an invitation from a man to come and be his wife. Desperate for an escape from her situation and its hunger, she goes, and marries the man, and finds out that it might not have been the best decision of her life. The story follows the arc of her life in Boston and then, beyond, tying her to a deeper and more powerful story (and Brigid). The piece is lightly speculative, the darkness coming out of the situation that Brigid found herself, the bargain she made to escape it, and the price she doesn’t find out about until much later.
Keywords: Travel, Marriage, History, Songs, Family, CW- Incest(?)
Review: This is a strange kind of story, and one that looks very much at the pressures that existed at the time (late 1800s) for people and especially women trying to escape famine and hardship, only running into more of the same. Brigid’s situation is one that she constantly tries to downplay, saying that she has it better than many. That her husband isn’t so bad. That things will be bound to get better. And then the titular event happens, and I like how that is centered, because it’s this line that gets crossed. After that, she really can’t tell herself a story about her situation that’s comforting. All that remains are the stories that she’s brought with her from home, which harbor a power that allows her to make a sort of bargain. A kind of sacrifice. That allow her to become a song, to will it into existence. And of course with that there is an added cost, not just the thumb she loses but the cycle of tragedy that she knows is going to come about because of it. And yet...I can’t help feeling that the story is still vaguely hopeful, that for all its darkness it does imagine for Brigid a way out, and maybe even a way that there won’t be much of a tragedy. Not to minimize what is...accidental incest(?), but it seems more an outrage of morals, as if this is meant to be this grand punishment. Only mostly Brigid is able to just sort of shrug it off. Because what had those moralls done for her except expect her to die in a relationship she escaped? Really I don’t see the ending as so horrifying, but also a relief, like the tragedy is meant for Brigid alone, and if she can hold onto it, she can bring it to the grave with her. A fine read!
“The Price of Knives” by Ruoxi Chen (3546 words)
No Spoilers: Under the sea, the Longnu are sisters, daughters of the Longwang and able, once they come of age, to rise up to the surface and see the things there. For most of the sisters, that means watching the sun and the ships on the oceans, sometimes the people along the shore. But the youngest sister, Sixth, wants more than that. The piece is probably a retelling of The Little Mermaid, the story made even more grim and wrenching by the way the elements are updated and twisted. Sixth has to pay a price for her legs, but there are other prices to be paid, too, and the story explores them and all their implications.
Keywords: Mer-People, Bargains, Oceans, Feet, CW- Foot Binding, Family, Transformations
Review: For me a lot of this story comes down to the points it makes about pride and price. About how the sisters are expected to hurt themselves for the sake of their beauty, and how Sixth is assaulted to make her more appealing to the man she kinda falls in love with. In both instances, there is a certain recognition that there might be some beauty to what the women endure, but that it becomes more and more obvious that it’s about power. About these women doing these things and feelings these \pains. That it shows devotion. That it shows the “proper” kind of pride. And I love the way the story runs with that. Not toward the tragedy of the original story. Not toward the Disney version of events. But toward something where Sixth is freed from her prison, and healed of her wounds, and doesn’t have to be the one to keep paying the price. For me at least I really appreciate how the story basically recognizes that she’s had to pay too much already, and that to make it right it’s not about paying more but making other people pay their share. The share that they’ve avoided because it was never expected that they be the one to hurt. So they supported the system, furthered the system, despite the harm it caused, because they liked it. The power and the product. Only now the sisters have decided that they’re not going to accept it, that they are going to embrace a different force in the ocean, one that sees and can tear down the need to hurt for beauty’s sake. Who can free the sisters from the price of other people’s pride, and given them space to be happy in themselves, unshackled by pain. It’s a wonderful and dark retelling, but like the first story it’s a piece that refuses to end on a down note. There’s hope here, and relish, and a certain tenderness, even amid the sharp edges of the sea. A fantastic read!