Review of Brandon O’Brien, “Gasping”, Apex Magazine 111 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.
A childless husband and wife find a baby by the ocean and adopt her. Colleen and Owen love baby Aislinn as their own, and they all move from Ireland to Trinidad. The girl is obviously not quite human, with breathing problems and strange reactions to water. But she grows up into a fine young woman, which is when the problems start.
I love a good selkie story or a changeling child, and I’m not alone in that. There’s a reason why both are so popular. This is not exactly either of those – Aislinn isn’t quite a selkie, as there is no seal skin, but she came from the water and to the water she must return. And a changeling child implies a switch, implies a human babe taken away somewhere, and that is also false. But this story sips from both of those classic narratives to excellent effect. This is a story about growing up, and about the difficulty parents face in letting their children go.
This is also a love story, between Aislinn and a girl in her class, Aditi. Their relationship captures the purity and innocence of young love free of angst, and brings a joyful counterpoint to the inevitably bittersweet ending.
The story is written in a dialect that I had some trouble following, but I got the hang of it by the end. If you are put off by that sort of thing, I recommend sticking it out, anyway. The story is worth it. I assume that this is a common Trinidadian dialect, and that it grounds the story in place, even if it is one I am unfamiliar with.
Overall, I enjoyed this story. The blending of fairy tale motifs and cultures set a delightful stage, and the casual acceptance of a lesbian love story is well worth checking out!