|Art by Cindy Fan|
There’s a new issue of Anathema out and for my sake I’m breaking it up into two parts, the first covering the first three stories and poem. The work is stunning, building broken worlds and situations populated by people who have lost and who are in the process of losing. Who are desperate for relief, for comfort, for understanding, and who don’t really get that right away. Who have to wait for it. These are some fairly grim stories, but nothing without a bit of hope to them, a bit of light and warmth. It might not be enough. It might not always sustain. But for most of the characters there is the possibility, the promise, that it might grow into something more, larger--that it will give them something like freedom. To the reviews!
“This House is Full of Faith” by S. Qiouyi Lu (2875 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story was never an incredibly devout Christian, but that doesn’t mean the angels that came to Earth to possess humans and wage war weren’t real. The narrator has lost their husband to that war, and is raising their daughter now alone, their faith shaken further, their ability to cope...not great. And then they’re visited by an angel, one who claims to be there without needing to possess a human. An angel who starts to help the narrator, and show them that there’s more to faith than violation and authority. It’s a tender, quiet story about care and about love, about faith and kindness. And it builds an interesting portrait of angels, both as sources of strength and sources of danger.
Keywords: Angels, Family, Queer MC, Possession, Parenting
Review: In some ways I’m struck trying to place what mythology this story uses, as it leans on angels that can possess humans but don’t necessarily need to. Where angels riding humans can do some terrible things...but also can disappear, like the narrator’s husband, whose fate here is largely unknown. It almost seems closest to Supernatural, though I don’t think it matters too much the exact “rules” in play here. Rather the piece speaks to me of hurt and loss, of living under the rules of a religion without necessarily believing in them. Certainly in the US, a country that doesn’t have a state religion, Christianity is still the law of the land, is expected and in many ways policed. Which speaks to me of the way that it doesn’t really matter what the narrator believes or not. The angels are there, are real in a way that can’t just be disbelieved, and either the narrator adjusts to that or runs the risk of acting against the reality that everyone else has built and legitimized. It’s a structure with misogyny and violence against women hard-wired in, too, which makes it even more difficult for the narrator as a mother, lost in trying to explain how their daughter should have control over her body when she doesn’t, when no one does, when an angel can come at any time and take them. Which definitely makes the narrator reluctant when an angel arrives and declares she’s there to answer a prayer. And who acts in good faith. And for me it speaks of the distance between belief that affirms, that respects consent, and belief that is authoritarian and corrupt. It’s the “same” religion in both cases here, but the angel, Muriel, actually seems to believe in the tenants of the religion that value free will and consent, while the angel that took the narrator’s husband did not. While most of the angels do not, and instead demand obedience and sacrifice. Here the narrator is left to reconcile the religiousness of a woman she comes to care for and the religiousness that has hurt her in the past, both grounded in the same mythology, but one tender and loving, the other violent and controlling. It’s a complex, interesting, intimate read, sensual and affirming, and it’s a great way to kick off the issue!
“Thunder Only Happens When it’s Raining” by Endria Richardson (4050 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is part of a family going through the oppressive late summer heat of their home, dealing with a lot of things unsaid. Among them is a brother who is sneaking alcohol and a family that seems to be pointedly ignoring whatever is happening. Except for the narrator, who is trying to reach out, trying to reconnect with the brother whom she loves. It doesn’t make sense to her, what’s happening--it makes about as much sense as the indoor storms the household begins to experience. And in the confusion is a story of longing and family and hurt that explores a sudden absence that isn’t even an absence but has already taken on the shape of one.
Keywords: Family, Storms, Beer, Schools, Siblings
Review: There’s a tremendous feeling of pressure in this story, captured in the way that it occasionally erupts into storm, into rain that falls inside. And it seems to center around the narrator’s brother, who spends the summer shut in his room, stealing beer from the fridge. Something’s happened, or is happening, and the narrator, nine years old, doesn’t really know what. It’s a secret that the rest of her family might not even know, but I feel that they know _something_. And so it’s the narrator who is left without context, not knowing why all of these things are happening, not understanding what’s happening to her brother, why he’s acting the way he is, what’s changed in him. But something has, and I love the way the story frames that without really revealing what it is, focusing instead on the atmosphere it creates, the way that it ties into the heat and the pressure that is building and building. The rain that erupts at times offers no real relief from it, no escape for any of them. The other sister ignores it. The father is largely absent working. And the younger sister is being left out of it, perhaps because trying to explain wouldn’t work. Whatever the brother is going through, it seems to be something he can’t really talk about with her, despite that they might have been close. And so there’s nothing but hurt storming through the house, threatening to tear everything apart. For me it’s a story about the confusion of the narrator, her shocked powerlessness as she has to watch something happen she doesn’t understand, a family member she loves pushed into a dark place where he doesn’t seem to have help, have protection. It’s a strange piece, dominated by a sense of foreboding, and devastating in the way there is no answer to the narrator’s confusion, probably because the answer is probably prejudice, corruption, and hate. A wonderful read that’s definitely worth spending some time with!
“My Soul is Wolf” by Joyce Chng (775 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story has a soul that is a wolf. Something that doesn’t exactly make it easy for them to get by in a human world. They have to keep to human time, and deal with human relationships. They need a job, where having a wolf as a soul makes them have to report to a counselor. The situation is draining, but the narrator seeks out opportunities to embrace their wolf, and eventually finds that there might be other people like them out there. The story is short and sharp, poetic in the way that it’s organized into very small, stanza-like sections. The feeling of being trapped, caged, is one that pops, soothed only by the promise of the forest, bare feet, and a yearning howl.
Keywords: Wolves, Souls, Employment, Queer MC, Online Communities
Review: The piece is short and staccato with its short sections, but I feel that plays nicely into the idea of the wolf soul. The sentences, too, are often short, sometimes repetitive. For me, they give the impression of that primal feeling, of the wolf that is the narrator’s soul, that wants to run, wants to howl. I love that the piece shows the narrator already at odds with most of society, with their job, even at times with their girlfriend, though there’s a lot of effort there to understand. But being a wolf is tied very much to something deep inside them, and not even their girlfriend fully gets what it means. The feeling that the piece captures is that yearning howl for me, the narrator calling out, hoping to hear something in return, a reply that will let them know they aren’t alone. And eventually they get that, because eventually they are able to find community online, and then meet in person. And so the story takes on the shape of a person finding where they belong, even if that means away from the job that they have, away from the partner who they’ve been with. Those things are part of a human world and as much as the narrator tries to need them, to find them meaningful, they seem to pale beside the wolf, the beating rhythm of running through a forest, of feeling the wind and filling the world with a howl that resounds through a pack. It’s a neat story, freeing and wild, and it makes for a fantastic read!
“Heart of the City” by Jessica Jo Horowitz
This piece speaks to me of resistance and defiance, the narrator a being who has been defeated but not destroyed. Who has been colonized, who has been taken by an invading force, their body made into a city for those who laid them low. But they are not dead, not completely gone, and though those that defeated them think they are forever pacified, the narrator is full of promise that it is not so. That there will come a future when they can rise again. And I lvoe the voice of this, the way that the narrator can acknowledge that they have been hurt. That they have lost a lot. But they haven’t given up, and I feel like this speaks to the different scope and scale that they are working on, something that is reflected in their size, that they seem big enough to be a city. And maybe they have been torn apart, their body made into the materials for these adversaries to build their homes, but that too is part of their plan now. Because in time, and no matter how much time it takes, the smaller people will lose sight of the bigger picture. They’ll think that they have won forever, and will become sloppy, less vigilant. And the narrator will learn from their mistakes, will act in the future in a way that cannot be stopped or thwarted. And they will reclaim their body, reclaim themself. It’s a piece that really gets that feeling of power, of dispersal, of waiting to come back together at just the right time, never vanquished, only forced to play a longer game. I love the visuals, the sense that this is a being being built on, taken apart, made into something to suit their enemies. But there is no real sorrow that I feel from it. Just a certainty that this will not stand. That the losses will be reversed. That they will rise again. It’s resilient and it’s powerful and you should definitely go read it. A great read!