REVIEW: “Below the River” by Rose Strickman

Review of Rose Strickman, “Below the River”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

It often seems like literature takes a very long time to catch up to technology. The advent of ubiquitous cell phones and smart phones has fundamentally changed the way we interact with each other and our world, and it feels — to me at least — that these changes have been so radical in their depth and scope that we are still struggling to articulate this in our writing without making reference to phones, etc., seem “gadgety”.

One of the things I really appreciated in Strickman’s story was the way in which contemporary technology was seamlessly interwoven into the story. None of the awkwardness that I so often see was present.

But that ease displayed there was not always reflected in the rest of the story, which was occasionally somewhat stilted. The opening scenes were filled with mournful portent without giving the reader a clear indication of what the portent was of or why we should be mournful, and the use of a dream sequence to convey memory is a somewhat overused technique. There are a number of places where I think what I wished for most was less vagueness and more distinctiveness. (Not just “ill”, but ill with what? Not just “medicine”, but what kind of medicine?) Lastly, the ending was pretty clearly telegraphed from fairly early on; now, this is not always a bad thing; sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than a growing suspicion of how things will turn out being vindicated when you reach the end of a story. But that vindication only comes if it is clearly possible that that ending would not be reached. Here, there was never really much doubt.

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