It’s a rather strange issue of The Dark Magazine this month, with two new original stories that are all about isolation. That find characters who can’t seem to be seen by the people they want to connect with. For the first, it’s not being able to get people to see her pain, her truth that is killing her because of the things that are happening to her. In the second, it’s not being able to be seen at all, being alone through a history that slowly turns but remains mostly locked in the same old cycles of loss and violence and grief. In both, the characters want to break through their isolation, but there are patterns of force and abuse and violence that keep them separate, alone. And before I give too much away, I’ll get to the reviews!
|Art by Vincent Chong|
“Needles” by Kali Napier (3732 words)
No Spoilers: Maeve is a girl in a time period that I find kind of hard to place. Her family doesn’t have indoor plumbing but does have electricity. Her home, however, is kind of falling apart, and in more ways than one. Her father is abusive, violent, and has placed Maeve in a place where even worse things are happening to her at the hands of the local priest. The story folds around sewing, and the atmosphere of decay and rot that is suffocating Maeve and her family. That seems like it reflects one aspect of the narrative, but might actually have something to do with something a bit more hopeful. That hope is grim, though, and the piece is difficult and wrenching, heavy unto crushing.
Keywords: Sewing, Poison, Family, CW- Abuse, CW- Rape(?)
Review: I like how the story sort of sets up the tragedy of the situation, the silence and obedience that dominates what Maeve is told and how she’s supposed to act. How it sets up this situation where she is stuck trying to exercise what little power she has and might just set up a very grim moment because she’s not let in on what all is going on. Because her mother is trying to tell her something without being able to tell her directly, and how that leads to the situation where Maeve thinks she must take matters into her own hands. And in that it does have the shape of a rather classic tragedy (complete with the bodies on the floor), where people trying to work in the best interests of themselves and others can’t avoid destruction because they can’t be honest and open. It’s a constraint not of narrative convenience but of setting, though, the oppression such that these women have to rely on their own cunning and a hope that maybe if they’re quiet people won’t suspect them of being capable of protecting themselves. But if they fool each other, some...unfortunate things can happen. The piece mores through the horror of what’s happening to Maeve and her reluctance to speak, her knowledge that if she does it will likely only make things worse. And it does. Only not exactly. The piece does have a bit of hope, that some wrongs...it’s not that they can be righted so much that they can be stopped. And sometimes justice takes on some strange shapes, and sometimes it twists back into injustice all the same, despite everything. It’s a difficult story, not just because it deals with a lot of heavy content, but because it shows how avoidable this would be if the women in the story were valued, if they had power and voice. Instead, they are locked into these tragic spirals, with no real way to pull out of them. A fine read!
“Agog” by Stephen Volk (5921 words)
No Spoilers: Agog is a giant, the last of his kind, the last of those who were supposed to be the protectors of Albion, what became the United Kingdom. Only as part of what has spared him from the violence that took the rest of his people, Agog is invisible to humans. Or to most of them. And he’s been a sort of guardian of people, of the island, taking part in conflicts when the need arises, trying to save what he can even as the ages to wear at him, even as he’s lonely in the long period of his isolation. The piece pauses as he is occasionally seen, occasionally felt, as he wonders if there’s any point for him going forward, lingering, and does indeed come across reasons and a drive to keep on living. It’s a slow, wrenching story, that carries through some grim periods of history and finds a bit of magic and wonder even in the face of death.
Keywords: Giants, United Kingdom, Invisibility, History, Plagues
Review: It’s great how the story structures itself, repetitive in the way it begins each paragraph with the name of the main character, building something that feels mythic, that seems cyclic and powerful. And then, of course, breaking that when the giant meets a young boy dying of plague. It’s a moment for Agog when he’s no long alone, when everything doesn’t begin and end with him, and I really appreciate the way the story emphasizes that with its structure and language, making it much less about the myth right then and about this much more intimate, personal moment. A moment where Agog speaks and is spoken to, where someone reaches out with kindness and not violence, where he is considered a person, for as short a time as it happens. And I like that it gives Agog some measure of hope, some measure of relief. That it’s such a shock to be seen and heard because he’s invisible but that it also breaks him out of the place he’s in where it’s only him and his thoughts and the long long years. Not that he’s impatient, or doesn’t like time, but that even so there’s something about being the last, being the only, being so profoundly alone that’s very hard to handle. The story builds up a lovely but haunting picture of that. It connects big and small, invisible and ignored, showing a relic of a past that everyone has forgotten. At the same time, there’s a meta twist to the story, the way it insists that stories are the protectors of history, so that in a way the story itself is trying to pull the narrative away from the traditional depiction of giants, away from the lies, and toward the true wonder and loneliness of the truth. Because it’s only when people are willing to believe in that wonder that they’ll be able to really see Agog. And that’s what the story seem trying to do, to create that moment of recognition, of connection, that is precious and rare. A lovely read!