Short Stories I Have Lately Loved: 12/11/2015

“Shimmering, Warm, and Bright” by Shveta ThakrarInterfictions, issue 6, Nov. 2015

She leapt into the luminescence, burying herself in its warmth. It soaked into her skin, saturating her, familiar, loving. No, there was no way she could ever be sad.

And yet we see Tejal be sad throughout the story, because that’s how brains are. Even the best balm doesn’t protect you forever.

I read this story weeks ago, but I keep thinking about it as the sun slinks further away and the days get clipped shorter and shorter. I write this next to a paltry little light box, and what I wouldn’t give for Tejal’s sunshine closet. Not that it solves all of her problems, or her mother’s problems, but, still, what I wouldn’t give for one. Shveta Thakrar tapped into the magic of the everyday and the creeping horror of depression in this story. As someone with seasonal affective disorder, and as someone who’s wrestled with depression otherwise, this story sticks with me.


 

“Geometries of Belonging” by Rose Lemberg; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, issue #183

I know that one day he will ask me to heal him.

The day I heal him is the day I’ll heal myself.

There are some short stories that hit you with their precision, with their brevity. And there are are some, like, this one, that are long, luxurious reads. There is a lot going on in “Geometries of Belonging”–plots and subplots that dovetail and mirror themes back together. It’s an intricate, finely wrought piece about damaged people and the damage people do. It’s a heartbreaking piece about heartbreak. It’s just…it’s so emotionally deep and satisfying, and especially as a non-binary person it is so respectful and affirming. Bittersweet and lovely.


 

“Hwang’s Billion Brilliant Daughters” by Alice Sola Kim; Lightspeed, issue 67, Oct. 2015

And then what? It is disputed. Is Hwang a force of good? Is he evil? How does he choose which daughters he appears to? Is he a matrilineal family curse? He tries to explain but it is not satisfying to his daughters.

On the first read, this is a bizarre little fable. On the second read, this is an incredible sad story of immense grief and guilt, the story of a man attempting to reconcile his purpose in life once he perceived himself to have utterly, completely failed. Hwang simultaneously erases himself and makes himself foregrounded in the lives of his descendants–all of his billion brilliant daughters. All the daughters except for the ones he actually wants to see again. It is a sly, clever, terrible, heart-wrenching story.

 

Short Story Rec: “All In A Hot And Copper Sky” by Meg Arkenberg in Lightspeed, September 2015

The whole story is free to read here.

I was your replacement, your stand-in for the survivors, because I was a survivor myself. (And what good are survivors otherwise, but to read our sorrows and grievances against the dead, to listen to what the dead cannot hear?)

Meg Arkenberg’s “All In A Hot And Copper Sky” unfurls slowly; it’s like watching a doctor unwrap bandages on a wound. You catch glimpses of the damage, you know there’s something there, something vicious, but it’s slow methodical work to get to the thing underneath. And like a doctor unwrapping a bandage this story is also deeply intimate–a singular, personal character study of a woman who is not allowed, never allowed, to stop grieving someone she lost because her dead lover is a famous killer (savior? the jury of public opinion remains out) from a failed space colony.

The narrator, Dolores, survived. Dolores survived everything: she survived the failed colony which only had survivors, arguably, due to her lover, Socorro’s, actions, then she survived Socorro’s death, too. But survival is not escape. Dolores lives the rest of her life in the shadow of Socorro’s actions, carrying the weight of her lover’s choices forever.

It’s a haunting story. Like “Dustbaby”1, it’s about grief, but it’s about an altogether different kind of grief–a kind of ferocious and public grief that can’t be escaped.

~

1I will not deny that I am a sucker for stories about grief. For reasons.


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Short Story Rec: “Dustbaby” by Alix E. Harrow in Shimmer #27

The whole story is free to read here.

Grief, in my experience, is a lot like dust. It turns food gritty and sour, it sifts onto your pillow as you sleep and burrows into every pore of skin, and you can never truly be rid of it.

I am only thirty, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about grief. I’ve grieved in a lot of different ways, but I’ve (so far, and thank god) never lost a child. I also have a fascination with the Dust Bowl. These two interests are not miles apart. The Dust Bowl was a time of horrific grief for many. It was a time where the earth itself revolted in an unexpected carnage so blistering and total that no one knew what to do to survive it, and many didn’t. The dust literally ate people alive, or it starved them out. It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true.

I have a book I’ve been working on periodically for the last couple of years about pregnancy. It’s a sort-of body-horror book where I’m trying to capture the utter weirdness of pregnancy, the way it makes your own body alien to you while at the same time connecting you to its intricacies in a new and haunting way.

Harrow’s story brought all of these odd little thoughts and interests of mine together in her story about a lonely, heartbroken woman on a dying farm who finds a mysterious baby in the dust. The story’s style reminds me of Flannery O’Connor or Steinbeck–plain-voiced and gothic at once. Like O’Connor there is in Harrow’s story a current of destruction and a current of resurrection undergirding the story.

It’s brutal and sad and sweet. I loved it. You might, too.