REVIEW: “The Names of the Sky” by Matthew Claxton

Review of Matthew Claxton, “The Names of the Sky”, Podcastle: 490 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

It may seem odd that the first description that comes to me for a story set in wartime is “lovely” but the language of this one just flowed over me. It hit my exposition sweet spot in laying out the setting with casual description and character interaction, rather than feeling the need to tell the listener where they are and what’s going on. (But I’ll tell you anyway, so the review makes sense.) Zoya, a Russian fighter pilot in WWII has come down in a rural area behind the front and needs to survive, find shelter, and figure out how to get her plane in the air again, in that order. An encounter in a nearly-deserted village leaves her saddled with a responsibility that threatens those goals, but the seemingly senile old woman isn’t what she seems. A familiarity with Russian folklore will aid the listener in keeping up, given the aforementioned oblique approach to exposition. I loved the casually feminist (or maybe woman-centered is a better term) underlayer of the story that grew organically out of the themes and the historic-folklore roots. (Though now I find myself hungry for a story of “Grandma” and her sisters in their youth–and I wonder how much of that reference is based on the original folklore as opposed to being invention.)