Monday, June 22, 2020

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #14 [part 2]

I’m taking the opportunity of a slight downtick in things to cover this month to go ahead and finish up my review of the latest issue of Mithila Review. There’s another three stories and three poems, so still a lot of content to get to on top of the reprint fiction and other nonfiction the publication puts out. And the works range widely in themes and length, from a very short almost microfiction to a rather long short story, everything still dealing with some heavy themes, from misogyny and pregnancy to family and abuse. The works lean rather fantasy, though I guess they really lean rather literary, as two of the three fiction works don’t have huge speculative elements. But there’s a lot of strong works to see and experience anyway, and I’ll get right to my reviews!


“Things Not to Say” by Amy Collini (585 words)

No Spoilers: This very short story looks at what not to say to soon-to-be and new mothers, especially those having and raising their first child. And in framing the story as a sort of advice column, the piece twists the “advice” that people and especially women get surrounding having children. These “helpful hints” and comments are here revealed as the aggressions they are, the ways that people seek to control people and especially women who are becoming parents, framing the ways that pregnant people are mistreated systemically as some sort of secret club that the pregnant person has always been ignorant of and is now being allowed entry into. It’s a quick read and one that hangs on the way childbearing, birthing, and raising are treated in society at large.
Keywords: Advice, CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Parenting, Microaggressions
Review: I like how the story frames the ways that pregnant people and new parents are treated, how there is this culture of intrusion into pregnancy and parenting, and how parents (here focused rather singularly on mothers) are often basically harassed about their bodies, their choices, everything about what they’re doing. Being pregnant or having a child seems to be almost an invitation for people to share their opinion. About the parent’s body, their parenting, their visibility, their pain. And it creatures a climate of active policing of people who are probably doing the best job they can, who really don’t need more and more judgment heaped on them. And I think it preys on this truth that society is fairly terrible at preparing people to be parents, to go through childbirth, to take a realistic and informed approach to any of that. From the way that reproductive education is attacked and politicized to all the ways our culture both romanticizes and demonizes pregnancy. It’s a mess of conflicting opinions and people who probably do need help knowing what to expect and how to cope. What they get instead tends to be people using it as an excuse to preen, to say that they went through this thing and so everyone else could learn a thing to two from them. It’s made into a sort of competition, or a sort of hazing, where the initiates all have to suffer from this barrage, this policing. When really what’s more called for is compassion, and letting those going through it ask for advice or help if they want it, and only in the ways they want it. It’s a great point!

"Blood Relations” by J. Check (3696 words)

No Spoilers: Circling around a family that almost accidentally got into movies, this story is framed as a kind of annotated biography or memoir, a sort of behind-the-scenes from the perspective of the child born into that world. Jamie’s parents got into movies through the gory movies of Teddy Torrez, a director who specialized in low budget gore fests. Both parents go on to have careers in film, first together, then apart, and Jamie’s descriptions mix recollections from their journey as well as bits of insights into the events and her own life. It’s a strange but compelling piece, decidedly not a horror story despite being about horror movies, and though not super speculative I think it uses the genre of speculative cinema to explore some interesting things quite well.
Keywords: Movies, Horror, Family, Divorce, CW- Eating Disorders, CW- Dementia
Review: I love how this story is about horror without really relying on horror, and yet at its heart it deals with some very dark things--eating disorders, family dysfunction, dementia, etc. What I’m left with is a piece that is supposedly about the horror movies framed maybe as further context to these works that Jamie’s family did, but seems much more about how the important things are the people. Not Teddy Torrez the director who made dozens of gore-soaked movies about cannibals and women in danger, but Uncle Teddy who could see Jamie at a moment when that meant something. Not John Wyatt the successful director, but John the father who often screwed up, who was deeply insecure about his intelligence and his work. And all of them dealing with things that are important to them but alive most in the small human moments. All of them surrounded by horrors that are very real--the impending loss of loved ones, the continued abuses on and toward the planet--while also trying to find a way to reach out to one another. The title evokes family as much as it might sound like another of these horror movies. And perhaps to me the feeling is really that family might be the ultimate horror story, full as it is of abuses and terrors, isolations and separations and fears. Insecurities seem to drive this family forward, even as they seem successful on the outside. They all have their demons, and not ones that run around with giant horns. It’s a tender story, careful and quiet, and it paints a moving and complex picture of this family, of all of the ways they connect to the horror they work with, and all the things under the surface that they mostly ignore, except when they can’t. A fantastic read!

“The Trial of Tesslin VanGlaise” by Chloé Agar (6266 words)

No Spoilers: Tesslin is on trial for her life in front of a body of wizards who view being a woman as exclusionary to learning magic because of women’s “untainted” nature and the apparently corrupting influence of magic. But Tesslin’s situation is unique, in part because she’s ten years old and looking down the very real possibility of being hanged. Luckily, she’s not without an ally, and her defense pushes back against the idea that she’s a criminal in all of this, seeing that her part has largely been one of abused child. It makes for a story that has to be careful, and is, about agency and power and injustice.
Keywords: Trials, Magic, Adoption, CW- Abuse, Ghosts
Review: There’s a lot to like about this story, especially because it builds a second world magic story that has a younger feel, one with a young magic user who has known grief and whose grief has given them a foothold into magic, one they are not supposed to have. And after being used by a relative, abused for what might be political gain, it all comes crashing down in a rather dramatic turn of events. What follows is a trial that looks at sin, at the difference between breaking the law knowingly, and doing so willfully. Not up for debate here at least is if the law itself is just, but for now the scope is well grounded, posing Tesslin an immediate threat and pinning her chances on survival on a man who knows exactly what it means to be an outsider. One of the things that I wasn’t quite as sure about, though, was the moment at the close of the story where it’s casually referenced that Tesslin will have change her sex in order to receive training, at least for a time. And...that such magic exists would seem to make a lot of what the story is hinged upon kind of...complicated. But then, part of the piece feels like an introduction into something larger, not least of which because there are a lot of pieces that are left with plenty to explore. The fate of Cass, what’s really going on with Gyr and his backstory, and who Migen is and what their full powers are--those things wait like how the Fellow of Bones would no doubt just be waiting to cause trouble. As the opening to that longer work, this first chapter is solid, showing the very precarious place that Tesslin is put in and how she almost loses everything only to be rescued. But as her defense hinges on, she doesn’t really have agency here, is more along for the ride. The world building is solid, though, and I’d definitely read more of this story. It’s well imagined and paced, the stakes quite high and the characters memorable. It’s a wrenching in the position it puts Tesslin in, and I like how it gets her out again. All in all, it’s a fine read!


“Mare Anguis” by Josh Pearce

This piece speaks to me of space, of maps and the people who chart them, who push at the boundaries. The piece ties the margins of maps, the places that become the home of monsters and possibilities, to space, to the moon, to all the frontiers that we haven’t really crossed. Or have, but not exactly successfully. The piece is rather haunting to me, full of imagery of shells, of husks, of emptiness and floods and distance. I get the sense from this that this part of the map is full of wrecks, people who did not take the offer of safety when it was given to them. But also for me the piece doesn’t condemn them for that, doesn’t cast them as foolish for having ventured out into the unknown and been lost. Their marks are still there, their wrecks now part of the beeches and seas. And it’s eerie, certainly, the silences, and the ways that those losses seem to weigh on any attempt to explore the places not yet tamed by mapmakers. Which in some ways is a challenge. And for me it speaks to the part of humanity that can’t stand a blank canvas, that can’t stand a void. That wants to fill it with something, to make it less awesome, less huge. We want to know it to conquer our own fears of the unknown, as much as that might push the magical and the ”unspoiled” back and back, off the planet entirely, to a lonely sea on the moon that’s not water at all. And I just love the feel of looking down at a shore to find pieces of ship and rover and other artifacts of humanity that carry with them the same familiar call of the sea, the call away, beyond the horizon, always searching for something and never quite sure what. It’s a wonderfully evocative piece, about maps and mapping, about space and the call of the sea. A wonderful read!

“Corvid Dreams” by Jennifer Crow

This piece speaks to me of loss. Of a relationship that the narrator grieves because the other person is gone. And it’s something where the corvids must have been something between them, something this lost person loved and talked about with passion and mystery. Something that made up a part of their identity, so that now that the person is gone, the reminder the birds bring is bittersweet. Because of the joy beneath the sorrow, the bond that isn’t quite broken, for all that the veil of life and death is likely fallen over it. And I will admit to having a special fondness for corvids, crows and ravens and blue jays and magpies, all of them vocal and social and strange. Curious and kinda jerks at times. But for me there is something magical about corvids, something strange and almost otherwordly. And so I like the way that the poem subtly implies that they’d be able to pass along a message probably across the bridge of life and death. That they are beings of both worlds, or at the least that they’d be crafty enough to get the message through, regardless of what the mythology is, regardless of how the afterlife is structured. And it’s a sweet and wonderful way to sort of capture the way an absence works, that it lingers in these remembrances and in these envoys who carry with them a piece of the loss the narrator feels. It’s a very short piece, but it carries this large space in it, this room that is now inhabited by the bits of wisdom, the lessons this person imparted, and these birds who give no outward sign or recognition of their added importance and context. But still they seem to understand, and that gives the narrator some comfort, come link to the past and the person they knew and valued. A fantastic read!

“Still Life” by Pia Bhatia

This piece speaks to me of growing up, of feeling trapped in some ways, longing for something that seems like it should be near but finding that it might actually be out of reach. For me at least there is a sense that the piece finds the narrator wanting something, wanting a relationship like the ones they’ve seen in movies, something sleek and sexy, something wholly different from their lived reality. The title gives the piece a sense of being static, a snapshot but also something that lacks movement. Still life art tends toward immobile/inanimate subjects, and though the work seems to speak to living people, to a young relationship or would-be relationship, there’s this way that the implication to me is that it’s stuck, pastoral, contrasting the themes of the American movies that seem to promise excitement and sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. For me it builds up this idea that the narrator is caught wanting something, something that they’re not even sure of, that they’ve caught the longing from this sense that their own existence, as real and vital as it might be, doesn’t count because it doesn’t fit the narratives that they’re seeing, the narratives of what America is supposed to be like. Their life seems still in comparison, soft and blurred, all aimed at what they think and hope is better but just maybe missing something that is right in front of them. And I’m not sure, I just like the way the poem settles, the way it is full of this sense of waiting, of wanting, of reaching. And maybe through that finding something to break through the stillness of their life, giving them the promise of something kinetic, passionate, messy. The ending at least seems to me to hint that the narrator and this You they are speaking to/at might break out of the neat lines, might find something in each other that doesn’t require a trip to America, an escape from the world they’re both living in. It’s a lovely read, and definitely a poem to spend some time with!


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