Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online March 2020

The three stories of Flash Fiction Online’s March issue deal with fairy tales. With magic. With choices and grief and death and bargains. With people who might be tired of the abuses of the world, the greed, the pain. Who might want a way outside those rules, and find that the only way out might be to turn from civilization entirely, or else bring it crashing down on the heads of the corrupt. So yeah, to the reviews!


“Lipstick for Villains” by Audrey R. Hollis (973 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a maker of magic cosmetics--a very sought-after commodity for the queens of the world. But the whims and demands of queens aren’t exactly the safest of things, and the narrator must move and move again as those presumably protecting her from exploitation seek to exploit her. The piece reveals the cycle, the hunger at the heart of monarchies, and the growing exhaustion of the narrator as she just deal with the grind of it all. It manages a lot of broad strokes world building while capturing a sense of magic and politics that the witch wishes to be free of, but might just have to end up embracing--just not in the way any queen was expecting.
Keywords: Witches, Queens, Power, Cosmetics, Bargains
Review: I like the way the story builds this cycle of retreat, the narrator always forced to flee in the face of growing greed from queens who cannot seem to resist the allure of magic that will allow them greater power. She runs because she doesn’t want to be a party to it, but also because she knows that it never ends, that once on that road there is no getting off it. And yet neither is there really the option of avoiding it. The queens, in the greed, cut off all the other paths, leaving the only want to stay alive, the only way to retire and live a relatively quiet life, also one that requires her to marry herself to the whims and ambitions of a ruler. Knowing that at some point there will come a time when she knows too much, when the queen is too suspicious. And then she’ll be killed. And I love what the story does with that, how it builds to her confrontation with her own desire to flee. How she overcomes it, and how it’s both a victory and a defeat. A defeat because she didn’t want to use her magic this way. But a victory because at least this way it’s a kind of justice. At least this way she still has some control over it. And it’s her steering. What the story doesn’t follow is what happens next. Does she die in those next moments? Or does she decide to become the next queen? Does she use the confusion and chaos to slip away, to try again, but this time with a more ready willingness to fuck shit up if pressed? I’m not sure it matters, though I hope she doesn’t die. Because sometimes it is people with power who don’t want to use it, like her, who make the best leaders. But whatever the case, it’s a story that really captures the T I R E D of dealing with authoritarian bullshit and the revolution that can be the only true answer. A delightful read!

“Silver and Shadow, Spruce and Pine” by Maria Haskins (1000 words)

No Spoilers: Marika’s grandmother has gone missing from her nursing home, completely vexing the staff and most of her family as well. But not Marika. Marika remembers the stories her grandmother told, the fairy tales that were just a bit to vivid, just a bit too much like memories to be fiction. The story is laced with darkness and shadows, stalked by a presence that speaks of hunger and danger. And yet there’s something else there, something unexpected, and Marika must find out the truth, must parse fact and fiction in order to better understand her grandmother and the life she lived, the choices she made.
Keywords: Fairy Tales, Family, Nursing Homes, Wolves, Forests
Review: I really like how this story complicates fairy tales, and especially that of Little Red Riding Hood, casting the girl of that story now as an old woman, of an age that her own grandmother would have been in that tale. And having Marika realize that when she goes missing from the nursing home, it must have something to do with it. Must have something to do with the stories of wolves, of dangerous paths and safe houses. And I really like how the story defies expectations, reveals a wolf but not a monster that some might have expected. Not the kind of predator that often gets lent to the story. Indeed, the piece draws a somewhat grim picture of the grandmother’s life after the close of that story, a life with an alcoholic husband and a little hous eon the edge of the wild. But apart from it. Separate. Civilized in the ways that people value. And close enough that the grandmother can think about her decision, try to convince herself that she made the right decision, the good decision, but always doubting all the same. And for me the piece works around the idea that there was a choice way back then. That the grandmother, then just a girl, could have stayed in the forest and not died. Not been eaten. But rather joined with it and its magic. And instead she chose the more mundane world, the one that was supposed to be safe. But which wasn’t. And which made her hold back and deny the part of herself that longed to be in the wild, a part of it. And it speaks a lot to what fairy tales are, which is traditionally a rejection of the wild, and a reinforcing of the moral, the Christian, the authoritarian. And I like how it touches on that and then pulls away, letting the impact linger in the last words Marika speaks, the strange, wild, slightly haunted landscape that surrounds her like a red cloak. A great read!

“Gingerbread” by Dafydd McKimm (946 words)

No Spoilers: This story takes the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel and, well, not exactly updates it. The piece is still very set in that time, and in some ways building on the realities of those times. It’s a sequel. A continuation. A vision of what might have happened to the children after they escape and brought their parents riches that were supposed to be enough to live on. To change their lives for the better. But in keeping with the grim nature of the story, the continuation features its own heap of tragedies and griefs, and finds Hansel in a place he never thought he’d go again, but out of option on where to go and what to do. And through that it does manage to imagine a kind of happy ending, though one that carries some heavy implications.
Keywords: Fairy Tales, Family, Loss, Trauma, Bread, Candy
Review: I really like that the story implies, in my opinion, that fairy tales, even the grim ones, are almost not grim enough. Because they leave characters at moments when all of their problems are supposed to be other. Hansel and Gretel return with money enough so that their parents won’t have to murder them. It’s supposed to be enough that they can enter into what would effectively be the middle class and live relatively comfortable lives by the standards of the time. Instead the money is gambled away, Gretel dies of illness, and Hansel has to flee people out to collect on his father’s debt. He runs, and there’s only one place he knows to run to, and it’s wrapped up in candy and trauma. To me, the story seems to be saying that once the magic of the original story ends, the problems that were at the heart of what led two children hungry into the night remain, and any ground they lost is quickly regained. And at first it might seem strange that Hansel would go back to a place that almost killed him. And maybe it’s supposed to be a grimness of its own that he goes there and have to deal with his trauma. But I actually see this as a much happier ending, at least for Hansel. Because before he stepped away from the magic, and in so doing lost whatever power and protection it granted. In the “real” world, the mundane injustices caught up with him. But with magic the same rules don’t apply. With magic, he doesn’t have to earn money to eat. The house is food and shelter both. No, he might not understand it, but he has earned it through blood and tears, through nightmares and grief. And for me it does make the whole journey that much more impacting, twisting the lesson to not be wary of candy houses, but to recognize that sometimes there is no safety. Sometimes there is no climbing out of poverty. At least for children powerless to make their own decisions. Sometimes there’s only loss, and the only escape from that is something that doesn’t play by the corrupt rules. Magic. And with that, maybe, a true happily ever after can be possible. A sharp way to close out the issue!


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