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2015 Stories 60 - 65

Slowly catching up on the story reviews, still.

The following are all from Damien Angelica Walters’ collection Sing Me Your Scars, from Apex Books: http://www.apexbookcompany.com/products/sing-me-your-scars. These first five stories comprise the book’s first section, Part I: Here.

60. SING ME YOUR SCARS      One of the things that Damien Angelica Walters does really well is take classic horror and mythological figures and turn their stories upside down. In the collection’s title story, the Bride of Frankenstein is re-imagined and given voice – well, given multiple voices, as each body part attached to the whole retains the voice of the woman whose body it came from. That’s the premise of the story but certainly not the whole of it, as the story addresses issues of whether pain really does make us stronger, whether the act of destruction is also an act of creation, and how we each come to the decision to remove ourselves from a bad situation. (Note: the author never explicitly states that the scientist in the story is “the” Doctor Frankenstein, but my brain couldn’t help picturing the unnamed scientist as a distant relative determined to build a bride for himself.)

61. ALL THE PIECES WE LEAVE BEHIND     Meg can see the emotions imbued in every living and non-living thing around her: a precious gift she relishes and recognizes is not common-place. She loves the places (like her bookstore) where the emotions are warm and welcoming, and avoids the places (like bars, with the press of unhappy people) where the emotions are dark and overwhelming. But every beautiful gift can be subverted into something darker and more dangerous – and hivemind/crowdthink can break down even the most loving person over time. Walters explores Meg’s inner monologue changing and how her relationship with the world around her alters after a chance encounter with someone who exudes misanthropic/misogynistic (at least) energies. The story’s dark turn left me uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing.

62. GIRL, WITH COIN      Olivia was born without the ability to feel pain, leading her mother to abandon her in early childhood. Now, she makes a living as a performance artist, using the lack of sensation in her skin and organs to disturb audiences into seeing the world in a different way. The emotional pain of unexplained and unapologetic abandonment is something Olivia cannot avoid however. Of all the stories in this collection, I think this one might be the author laid most bare – Walters regularly uses her personal pains to imbue her stories with immediacy and depth even when the tenets of the story are touching on classic (and thus usually not-so-disturbing) tropes. The structure of the story also lends itself to the dispassionate viewer being drawn into the emotional underpinnings of the art they are viewing.

63. PASKUTINIS ILIUZIJA (THE LAST ILLUSION)    A modern fairy tale with mythological and real-world antecedents. Andrius Kavalauskas is the last real magician in a Lithuiania overrun by Russian soldiers following World War Two. Andrius is no sleight-of-hand stage trickster; he’s able to manipulate real magic, and does so in his tiny apartment as a way to keep his terminally-ill daughter happy. The problem is, magic is illegal under the new regime, and every small magic Andrius performs threatens to bring the authorities down on his already-decimated family. Told lyrically and wistfully, Andrius’ story is about the love and sacrifice of parents for their children.

64. GLASS BOXES AND CLOCKWORK GODS    This first person tale took me a little time to settle into. I wasn’t sure at first if the narrator was a human being transformed into something fairy-like, or a fairy being transformed into something human. The forces at work on the narrator and her fellow prisoners are big and nebulous – not necessarily Gods, but in control of the narrator’s fate none the less. Who she is becomes more apparent as the story progresses, so I have to think the confusion about what she is at the beginning must be purposeful on the author’s part. There’s also very much a “Stockholm Syndrome” feeling about the story and the narrator’s voice that I think is also intentional.

65. SUGAR, SIN AND NONSUCH HENRY    I immediately related to the main character of this story. Sugarsin has cut herself off from any romantic entanglements. She has her job, which she seems to genuinely enjoy (as do I mine); she loves to read to fill her spare time (as do I); what more does she need? To fill the silence of an empty apartment, she buys at a garage sale an automaton modeled on Henry VIII. Of course, as these things go, the supposedly strictly-programmed creature takes on a life of its own, forcing Sugar to some realizations about herself and how she lives her life that are not necessarily comfortable. The automaton can also be viewed as a stand-in for sex workers: purchased for one particular purpose but capable of so much more than that. What do we do when someone we’ve hired for a job steps outside the bounds of that job?

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