REVIEW: “Stars so Sharp They Break the Skin” by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Review of Matthew Sanborn Smith, “Stars so Sharp They Break the Skin”, Apex Magazine 108 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

This is a weird story. It’s not told in anything close to chronological order, the point of view shifts between third and second, and the main character’s perceptions of reality are so damaged that we as readers have no way to know what is objectively happening at times. However, if you find weirdness more intriguing than off-putting, or you really like the idea of reading about a veteran of an experimental war fought using weaponized psychic trauma, then you should forge ahead!

It’s hard to say what this story is about. War? Trauma? The fragility of perception and human connection? Is it a love story, a warning against war, a tale or healing? I think it’s all of the above. Without giving too much away, Cal (the disabled veteran of the very strange war) goes through a lot of shit in this story, but comes to a better place.

For me, most of this story skirted the line between “awesome” and “too weird,” but the ending really came together for me. I still have questions about what was and was not real, but the emotional story, the story of Cal and his ability to cope with his losses, came to a satisfying conclusion.