Short Story Rec: “The Minotaur’s Wife” by Megan Arkenberg

“The Minotaur’s Wife” by Megan Arkenberg is included in the January, 2015 issue of Pantheon Magazine. You can read it for free here.


I had not chosen to marry you, but I had chosen to become the Minotaur, and to do it well.

Like the other Megan Arkenberg story I’ve written about here, “The Minotaur’s Wife” is epistolary and quiet and desperate. I haven’t read enough of her stuff to know if this is a trend of hers, or if I just happened upon two particularly good ones written in a similar way, but hey, if you want two good, melancholy meditations on doomed love in epistolary form, Arkenberg’s got them for you.

This one involves a drug trade, and queerness, and arranged marriages that twist around to something different over the course of time, and barren houses that slowly fill themselves up. What I love about Arkenberg’s writing in this story is how much of Naxos, the narrator, you see in the details she chooses to write about in her letters. The letters themselves, the construction of them, are as revelatory as her actions.

And this works as a story. Where I would have made this something much grander in scale–probably a duology with all of the backstory filled in–Arkenberg limits the scope to such a tight focus. We only see Naxos and Asterion. She has a keen, clean eye for the core of her story and the details that support it. It feels huge, because lives for those living it is always huge, but she keeps that tight focus, and the story works at its clean length because of it, even though it spans over thirty years of Naxos’ life.

Short Story Rec: “Baug’s Hollow” by Cathrin Hagey

“Baug’s Hollow” was published in issue 32 of Luna Station Quarterly, and is free to read here.


She found her cottage yard dotted with spring’s first blooms, yellow poppies bursting from the frigid earth, the flag that other blooms would follow. Hen entered the cottage, pushing hard against the well-sealed door, one of Baug’s many gifts to his then young wife. “Heavy door, warm hearth,” was what he had said.

This is a very sweet, very quiet story about a woman who learns that her dead husband was both exactly who and not quite who she thought he was. I tend to read stories with angst with darkness in them, but this is one with comfort and wonder in it, and the warmth of it etched its way into my heart anyway.

I hope that when I am old that I am as patient and curious as Hen, and that I am as open to the strangeness and the beauty of life as she is.

Short Story Rec: “Firstborn” by Maria Haskins

“Firstborn” by Maria Haskins appeared in Capricious, issue 7. You can read it for free here.


I’m so tired: tired of crying, tired of screaming and begging. The night is cold and silent. It holds no answers, no prayers, no lullabies, no dreams. I am empty, hollowed out, scraped clean. I am nothing: not Em, not mother, not woman, not even human, anymore. I am a smudge of cold and shadow beneath a tree in a forgotten place in an abandoned world.

The best short stories are the ones that take some long-buried part of you, some feeling you forgot you ever felt, and then bring it right to the surface of your heart so sharp and crystallized that it sends you spinning right back in time. “Firstborn” by Maria Haskins did that for me.

Like Em in the story, my kid was born six weeks early. Like Em, the creeping anxieties of new parenthood swallowed me whole. Having a newborn is absolutely terrifying and incredibly isolating, and no one tells you that until it’s too late. For me, I ended up an insomniac who tracked everything in spreadsheets–how much the baby was eating, how often he was peeing, when he was sleeping. All of it. And then my partners intervened and sent me to therapy. And I got slowly better.

This story, about the eerie loneliness and terror of having a new life that only you are caring for, is strange and bizarre and filled me full of old familiar fears.

Short Story Rec: “Three Points Masculine” by An Owomoyela

“Three Points Masculine” by An Owomoyela was published in issue 72 of Lightspeed. It is free to read here.


The damn rev had a point: I got to be a guy because I took a test and it said I got into enough fights, played enough sports, had enough right interests and few enough wrong ones. I got to be a guy because some white-collar jackhole stamped and signed a form. I never would’ve got to be a guy just because I was a guy.

This story hit me hard.

This is some of the realest shit I’ve ever read about what it feels like to be transgender in a ciscentric world. In the context of the story, there are Gender Assignment Tests, and you are rated based on points as feminine and masculine. Certain thresholds of one or the other get you into certain positions and can get you access to certain jobs.

The thing is, this is not that different than the world we live in now. The thrust of the story, the interactions between the trans narrator and John, the trans colleague he works with and ends up depending on, are the kinds of conversations I’ve had with my trans friends. And they boil down to the idea that when cis people are running the show, you’re never going to get those last three points you need. Somehow, that brass ring is always out of reach.

Your identity is never really yours, because it’s always qualified. You have to keep proving it over and over again, justifying it to people who don’t experience gender and life the way you do but serve as gatekeepers anyway.

The story is beautifully written–hard, and sharp, and vicious. The world Owomoyela creates drips with bitter realism just cranked up to eleven. This story gave me all the trans feels and then some.

Short Story Rec: “Ogres of East Africa” by Sofia Samatar

You can listen to the story for free over at Pocastle, or you can pick up a copy of Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History.

I find myself adding it in the margins. There is a strange pleasure in this writing and not-writing, these letters that hang between revelation and oblivion.

If my employer discovered these notes, he would call them impudence, cunning, a trick. What would I say in my defense? “Sir, I was unable to tell you. Sir, I was unable to speak of the weeping mother of Kiptegen.”

He would laugh: he believes that all words are found in his language.

This just a stunning piece of short fiction. Samatar is telling many stories at once here–or, perhaps, a single story stretched across many levels–and she does so beautifully, masterfully.

Alibhai and Mary are hired by a White hunter for a trip to go hunting the ogres of East Africa; that’s the most basic reading of the story on the surface. But every element of the story is in conversation with every other element. Everything is symbolic and not symbolic at the same time. Alibhai is both a representative of marginalized people, a person speaking back against literally hundreds of years of narratives speaking over him, and a finely realized individual. Symbolic, yes, but also specific. Everything works at every level.

And the ending is phenomenal.

 

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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