REVIEW: “Evidence of a Storm” by Mollie Chandler

Review of Mollie Chandler, “Evidence of a Storm”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 17-21. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This issue is the first I’ve read of LCRW, and it was this story that solidified the thought that I would probably be enjoying this publication for a long time. I have a soft spot for bleak stories, and while this is one that doesn’t smack you over the head with utter hopelessness until you’re curled up crying there is an underlying line of tension and sadness running through the whole thing.

The narrator has recurring dreams that their apartment is a ship lost at sea, filling with water and sea life. Their girlfriend visits them, a perky woman who the main character is clearly having some sort of disconnect from. They’re having trouble communicating, refusing intimacy, referring to the woman as “a collection of hinges and joists.” Over time the dream becomes more real, and the world more surreal, with the water beginning to damage everything it touches while the narrator pushes their girlfriend away.

It’s easy to draw allegory and symbolism of depression and a doomed relationship from this piece: the trouble communicating, the pushing away of a loved one, the recurring dreams of a room filling with water. However, I feel it’s best to leave interpretations such as that to the reader. This piece is subtle in its grief, and it’s all so human. If it were only this story and the two preceding it in this magazine I’d still highly recommend giving a few dollars to purchase a copy, but there’s more in there, including a strange (though compelling) nonfiction piece and some poems. As for this story, like the previous two, highly recommended.

REVIEW: “The Secret History of the Original Line” by T. L. Rodebaugh

Review of T. L. Rodegbaugh, “The Secret History of the Original Line”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 9-16. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey. 

This is an extremely interesting historical piece, with a mix of fantasy. I haven’t been able to tell yet if it also follows in the speculative fiction tradition of alternate history stories. It tells of an expedition sent out by the King to trace and bind a border between Virginia and Carolina in what would otherwise be called the United States of America. The story takes the form of an expedition log, similar to the travel narratives that were popular in the 1800s by writers such as Herman Melville.

The history, cultural differences, and mythology make themselves readily apparent. The narrator speaks of their disgust of their Carolinian workmate, a pompous man who brings two indentured servants with him on the expedition. Our narrator sarcastically calls the man Christian in honor of his pious nature. The writing style reminds me of Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, and Mary Shelley in all the best ways, though the more thickly-written style, combined with the slightly longer length compared to the other stories in this issue made “The Secret History” take a while longer to get through.

The group comes upon a hermit, naked and seemingly savage, especially to Christian, though he quickly shows his nuanced intelligence as he converses with the other men. He explains it’s all well and good the King wants to parse out the land for his commissioners, but it’s owned by no one and changes every day: “If you parcel it out today, you will find it a different matter tomorrow.” The hermit becomes a focal point of the story, as does the aftermath of what happens to the survey team after meeting him.

It’s a skillful piece, though bleak and dreadful with hints at time travel and themes of inevitable war, doom, global climate change, and revenge. For those who think a story straddling the line between the “literary” and the speculative would strike their fancy I recommend this very highly. It’s another standout in this issue of the magazine, along with The Crane Alphabet and a few others. There are a lot of gaps in the story to fill in yourself, and it may take a couple readings to fully grasp everything, but it’s well worth the investment. Congratulations are also in order as this is apparently also Rodebaugh’s first published piece of fiction, and a very accomplished one at that.

REVIEW: “The Crane Alphabet” by L. M. Davenport

Review of L. M. Davenport, “The Crane Alphabet”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 7-8. Purchase here. Reviewed by Ben Serna-Grey.

This story is extremely short and sweet, reminding me a lot of Le Guin’s Earthsea, and I say that as a huge compliment.

The Crane Alphabet tells the tale of a novice in some sort of religious, possibly magical, commune, who seems to be mute. The one telling the story explains that another member of the commune, Marin, has been waiting to see if the novice will transform into a bird. The story is so short that to tell more would be giving away too much.

I will say that Davenport has woven a beautiful tale that speaks about fear of the fabled “other,” obsession, and the ways that obsession can transform a person. It’s one of the stand-out stories in this issue of the magazine and I highly, highly recommend it.

REVIEW: “Children of Air” by Gabriela Santiago

Review of Gabriela Santiago, “Children of Air”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn: pp. 2-8. Purchase here. Reviewed by Ben Serna-Grey.

 

Second-person narrative is something that can be a bit of a barrier for me in terms of really getting into a piece. This story is opened up with a lovely little selection from Robert Lois Stevenson, then jumps right into second-person narration, which admittedly raised my hackles a little bit.

The saving grace of this work is that the narration is fairly loose; it reads more like guidelines as opposed to a sequence of actions and thoughts you’re supposedly taking.

The story tells, in a sequence of vignettes, about the Children of St. Paul, aka the children of air, who are ghost-like figures.

Everything blends together into a dream-like blur as the story goes on. It starts out telling you about the park, and the plaque there dedicated to the Children of St. Paul, and how the park isn’t so suited to living children. Then the “you” addressed in the story falls asleep, falls into a surreal dream, wakes up and take seven of the children home for a sleepover. Meanwhile the weight of the children begins to weigh heavily on your emotions, and you’re urged over and over to drink milk to help with that burden. I don’t want to give away spoilers for anyone interested in the story, so I’ll just say the ending does come with an implied message.

I enjoyed the surreal aspects of this story, and the overall arc and message of it. The only thing that still ended up keeping me from really connecting was the second-person narration. Even still, I’d recommend a read, as it’s still skillfully made with a nice blend of melancholy, surrealism, and wit.