|Art by Edward Hicks (1848)|
It’s been a while since the last issue of Mithila Review, but issue 11 is out now! Now, things are a little different, in that the works aren’t being released all at once. Most of the content is live, but there are some more to come, and to cope I’m going to be taking the issue in two parts. In the first half there are three stories and four poems, and there will be again when I finish up my review next month. There’s a lot to experience, from a very very short piece to a full novelette, from a satire featuring zombies to a nightmarish look at a possible future where a border wall is being built. The poetry is great, the fiction dips into some rather dark wells, and the issue as a whole is a solid experience. So glad to see a new issue from this publication. Let’s get to the reviews!
“On the Seventh Day” by Elaine Vilar Madruga, translated by Toshiya Kamei (222 words)
No Spoilers: This is a very short translated piece that follows a second person “you” who seems to be alone is a vast empty universe. Who seems to have been exiled from whatever home he knew, either by expulsion or because that place doesn’t exist any more. You are taboo, an outcast, and are unable to break the isolation that has become your prison, no matter how far you travel or how many alternate realities who pass through. So you make a decision, and there might just be a spark of the divine in that choice. It’s a very brief story, one of the shortest I’ve reviewed here, but quite an interesting experience.
Keywords: Creation, Space, Exile, Cryogenics, Dreams
Review: This piece has a great stark feel to it. It captures this sense of time and distance that is huge, that you are lost in. And in that vast emptiness it seems to ask what might fill the gap. What might you do out there, in the dark and cold, in order to hope of not only finding someone else eventually, but making the passage of time more bearable. Which means trying not to be present in that emptiness. And in that the piece imagines you setting up a long long sleep. A cryogenic storage, essentially, so that maybe you can wait out the isolation and find on the other side something alive and present. But in doing so the piece plays with the idea of creation, where you create a dream to keep you going through the dark, and to maybe heal some of the hurt that you feel because of your exile. Instead of being kicked out, you imagine yourself a world of people to worship you. It’s a neat take on the creation myth, where here the Earth and everything on it are the dream of some god waiting in an empty universe for some reprieve. I’m not sure it’s exactly comforting to the people living inside that dream, but it’s an interesting experiment, placing the reader into that place, where they are the ones dreaming reality into being. Kinda trippy, and though quite short, well worth checking out. A fine read!
“The Great Wall of America” by David A. Hewitt (7742 words)
No Spoilers: Rafa is a member of a crew forced to build a nightmarish wall between the US and Mexico. The pace isn’t just brutal, it’s pretty much always fatal. Even when things were going smoothly and everyone was healthy, the four-person crew of the story could barely keep up. When one is beaten and falls ill because of it, it’s impossible, and seeing as how falling behind can be punished, they all become desperate to find a way out of their situation. Escape might not be possible, though, and the story explores the full horror and darkness of this situation, of what the crew has to go through in the hope of surviving, and how fragile even that thin thread is in such a violent setting.
Keywords: Borders, Prisons, Forced Labor, Escape, Walls
Review: This story looks at a future where the border wall is being built...poorly. Because there doesn’t seem to be a way for such a thing to actually be accomplished in anything but the most corrupt and depraved way possible, here made with mostly prison labor, though with some volunteers and would-be-immigrants thrown into the mix as well. Really the people in charge don’t care, as long as the labor is cheap as free and the work gets done. The division of labor is stark, with a guard for just about each “worker,” and a general disregard for if people die. The crew the story focuses on comes from a variety of backgrounds, but are all bound by their situation. A situation that they know they can’t really hope to survive. And I love that the story has them stay together, that even in the worst circumstances, even when faced with a way out if they would just sacrifice one of their number, they refuse. Amid all the awful shit that’s going on in the story, it feels real and I very much appreciate that here is a group that isn’t going to betray each other, that understands that really only as a group do they have a chance at surviving, and of wanting to survive. If they were completely selfish and corrupt, after all, it’s more likely they’d be guards, whereas it’s more telling that it’s the decent people who have been made into the meat to be ground and shaped into this inhuman wall. It’s definitely not the cheeriest of reads, though, nor the easiest in terms of content. But that feeling of constant threat, that they know they could be beaten or killed at any moment, and the indifference toward their suffering on the part of the guards and system, is well and carefully done. And the ending is ambiguous, leaving the reader to decide what might have happened, if Rafa was able to make it to safety, if any of them were, or what even that would look like, considering where they were going. A great read!
“Domesticated” by Timothy Bastek (2166 words)
No Spoilers: Monty has returned from Europe with a surprise—a domesticated Reanimate pet for his daughter. Oh boy! Not that his wife is too keen on the idea, seeing as how devastating the disease has been in Europe. But that’s all in the past, right? And anyway, they have the guarantee of Mr. Espino, the man Monty bought the Reanimate from, that there’s no danger at all. What could go wrong? Well... The piece certainly does a great job of showing how status works, how this gift wasn’t really for Monty’s daughter, but was about something much more complicated, and toxic, and ultimately deadly.
Keywords: Zombies, Pets, Family, Infection, Parenting
Review: So this story steps firmly into satire, showing a man who gets a zombie for a pet and the fallout from that decision. I do love how different the reactions in the family are, how varied their motivations. Monty gets the zombie because it signals his wealth and status, because it is rare to have one and because it makes the neighbors jealous. He loves the attention. Meanwhile his wife is concerned about safety, but still willing to go along with it because she’s been put in this almost impossible situation because the daughter likes the zombie as, well, a pet. She is much more compassionate than either the mother or father, but it’s a compassion in many ways that’s misplaced because this ins’t an animal. And I think at its core that’s what the story is about, about how this is wrong not because pet ownership is wrong, but because this is taking what is essentially a human and making them a possession. Even if they’re already a zombie, there’s really no telling that these kids weren’t turned purposefully to then be sold to the wealthy after being mutilated. In that it does seem to be a bit of a statement on how we treat pet animals (declawing especially), but more than that is a critique on how wealth leads to these circumstances where some people are seen as less than human. Where their only worth is essentially as slaves to rich people. And that it’s insidious because the daughter here does like her pet, but is being taught that people can be pets, that they aren’t fully people. Because she’s young and that’s just what she’s absorbing. But it’s her who ends up paying the price, because people are not animals. And any attempt to render them completely harmless can backfire horribly. It’s a dark piece but certainly one worth spending some time with. An unsettling and effective story!
“churning of milky oceans” by Uma Menon
This poem speaks to me of rot and of nourishment. Of milk, of oceans, of pollution. It’s constructed as a series of couplets, and the immediate image is of green milk, tying that in the title to the oceans. There seems to be a series in the piece, a progression much like a logical argument, taking the reader from point to point. And it is a rather skin-crawling experience at time, the thought and feel of green milk on the tongue, of weighing it and sifting it on that intimate and immediate level. Drawing the parallels between that and the way the oceans have been abused, been contaminated, is a strong and impacting experience. And it’s heightened in my opinion by the structure, the couplets, each of a kind of bullet point, each one a stepping stone to the next. For me at least there is the feeling of a regular beat, a movement that keeps the reader propelled through the waters that have become like spoiled milk, pushing through the oil and the sludge, the toxic miasma, lamenting the way that everything has been wrecked by the greed to pull oil from the earth, to try and get at that life-sustaining material that is like our milk. That we have come to depend on so much and that the earth provides as if it were milk. Only we sup too greedily, not realizing the ways that we’re corrupting everything, letting it rot and spoil. The piece for me isn’t about telling the reader where to go next so much as it’s to make them taste the results of that greed on their tongue. To have to sit with it there, gag reflex aching to activate, and have to swallow it down instead, experiencing full what needs to be addressed. It’s a difficult piece but also an important one, and you should definitely check it out!
“The Moth Spectacular” by Adele Gardner
This piece does a lovely job of balancing loss and joy, sorrow and magic. It finds the narrator of the piece gathered with their family following the death of their father. They watch as their niece and nephew, but especially their niece Kay, gathers butterflies and moths, helping to transform the grief that the family feels on this occasion and bring back the spirit of their dead father and grandfather through her joy and the beauty of what she can accomplish. To the narrator it’s a special kind of magic, nostalgic and new all at once, reminding them not just of their own childhood with their father but of the magic that their father seemed to have, the joy and the whimsy. The occasion is not one that is overly happy, dominated instead by this deep sense of loss for the family, but Kay casts her spell, pulling people out of it, showing them a more fitting way to honor the life of a man who seemed to have appreciated joy, who wanted people to put on a happy face. And it’s a really heartwarming piece, showing the narrator grappling with their own complicated feelings and pain, seeing them react to the way that Kay’s excitement and magic sort of changes everything, wakes people up. It’s something that could be considered inappropriate, because it’s essentially joy at a funeral, but it also seems exactly what people need in order to really deal with their emotions, processing the grief and beginning to resolve it into healing, into hope once more that this is just one ending, and the world will keep going, and will still retain the magic that their father carried. That he’s managed to pass it on, and that it lives in the narrator as well as Kay, and that they can help each other heal through this gift. An amazing read!
“Joining the Navy” by Phoebe Low
This is a strange piece, and for me is speaks a bit of freedom, of the need to move, to travel, to do something that breaks out of the dull pattern that offers no relief for the need to be out under the sun. The title for me is both odd and also necessary for the rest of the poem, as the piece begins with an explanation of sorts. At least for me, the poem starts out as a sort of justification for why. Why join the Navy? Which, I mean, seems like it would a question someone would get asked. Like there is a conversation going on, or an announcement. But then, there’s the question of who is the one joining. That explanation that begins the poem isn’t actually the narrator speaking, but rather then repeating something that a second person “you” has said. Which means maybe the narrator was the one asking after you announced that you were joining the Navy. And it rocks them back on their heels. Because they had never really thought about it, had sort of fallen into this routine, this job that they don’t really like. That you are now getting out of by going into the Navy. Because I feel the narrator hasn’t made their decision yet. Is now dealing with the uncertainty that has come from their safe little world falling apart. And seeing that it might be a good thing, a freeing thing. That they can scratch this itch that they’ve had. But again, I’m not 100% about who is joining the Navy, or if both people are, or somehow neither. What I know is that I feel it captures this feeling of having this deep desire for change, for some break from the monotony of cubicle work, and looking for a way out in maybe some ways that come with dangers and problems, but maybe needing that anyway. It’s a complex read, and a fine read!
“How to Lie About SN 2213-1745” by Mary Soon Lee
This piece evokes explosion on a stellar scale, the title a reference to a massive stellar nova that (I think) is the most distant nova observed by humans. And the poem takes this and ties it into the way that people write narratives. The way that people assign not just will and motivation but gender and expectations based on that. The piece is presumably set up as a bit of advice, echoing perhaps projects like “How to Suppress Women’s Writing.” At least for me that’s the kind of feeling that this piece seems to tap into, because it speaks about how to try and take the power away from this nova while still gendering it. The piece speaks of how the nova becomes a woman whose story is taken and assigned as one of denial first, slander next. Either she didn’t burn, didn’t exist, wasn’t what she was. Or else her story is one of a woman being too emotional, being spurned, burning out of need for a man. Either way she’s not allowed to be the event that she was, isn’t allowed to be in command, burning because she wanted to, because it brought her joy or pleasure or something positive. The poem shines then with the implications that these ways of stripping the nova of her own power and agency are lies. That these are merely the attempts of trying to take away something that for those in power is dangerous. And so the poem isn’t about helping people to lie about the nova, but rather shining a light on the fact that these attempts to rob the nova of its brilliance is some utter bullshit. That the attempts to frame the accomplishments and talents of women as somehow negative is just misogyny. That what we should do is acknowledge the accomplishments and awesomeness of the women to shine. Who choose to burn bright, a signal and a message to everyone that it’s possible, and that it’s beautiful, and that it’s shouldn’t be erased by people too invested in their own hate and prejudice to to appreciate what’s happened. A wonderful poem and a great way to close out the first half of the issue!