REVIEW: “The Lightning Bird” by Kristi DeMeester

Review of Kristi DeMeester, “The Lightning Bird”,  Apex Magazine 100 (2017): [Read Online]. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

We learn two things from the very first sentence: Gable’s mother has died, and this story features magic. It’s hard to write about mother daughter relationships without being saccharine, and harder still to write about dead mothers without slipping into the maudlin, but DeMeester manages it here. Gable’s grief permeates the page, raw and messy with edges like broken glass.

The magic feels real. By that I mean that it isn’t a metaphor for grief – though it serves as a powerful tool to elucidate that emotion – and it isn’t tacked on. Gable is a tribal healer, diviner, and psychopomp for a community of South African immigrants living in Florida, a role and gift which she inherited from her mother, Uma. It is a part of who she is, part of the world sketched out for us. This is almost as much a story about her stepping into that adult role as it is about grief, but really they weave together, forming the warp and weft of the tale.

DeMeester weaves past and present together in a way that should be confusing, but is actually easy to follow. Gable’s memories of her mother, of growing up, and of one other girl in particular butt up against the main narrative, sometimes with white space as a cue, but often without it. Somehow this is not confusing, a testament to the author’s control.

The end is dark and strange, redolent of cycles and power.