REVIEW: “Angel, Monster, Man” by Sam J. Miller

Review of Sam J. Miller, “Angel, Monster, Man”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 123-151. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Because to succeed as myth, Tom had to be dead. Otherwise the charade became too complicated to maintain. And who would know, in this city where the dying stacked up faster than firewood, that this one particular name in the long litany had never been an actual person?

A thought occurred to me, while reading the title of this piece, that while women have the threefold “Maiden/Mother/Crone” division, there isn’t really anything equivalent for men. What would such a tripartite characterisation of men look like? What types of myths and history could such a division tap into, in the way that the one for women does?

Miller’s story doesn’t actually address this question, but these were the thoughts playing in the back of my mind as I read it. I really enjoyed the complex narrative structure: Three parts, one for each portion of the title, one for each of three named narrators, the three that gave birth to Tom.

I loved the way the story operated at two levels, at one, just a story, at the other, an interrogation of the limits and boundaries of lies, fiction, and myth. Above all that, I loved the beauty of the story, with fine, delicate, ugly language. (The story is so full of lines I’d like to quote that if I quoted them all, I’d just be reproducing the entire story. “Adulterous toad-priests”. “Being a criminal is not so different from being an artist.” “Because of course it will hurt, because the things we need most always do.” “Love is the disease.” Ah! So many beautiful words.)

There is a rawness to the stories in this anthology that is unlike anything in any of the other anthologies I’ve reviewed for SFFReviews. It is hard to read these stories, Miller’s included especially, and not be moved. I also think I will be hard pressed to find a more powerful story in the collection than this astonishing one.

(This story first appeared in Nightmare, 2016).

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