REVIEW: “Joinery” by Jennifer Lyn Parsons

Review of Jennifer Lyn Parsons, “Joinery”, Luna Station Quarterly 36 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This entire issue of Luna Station Quarterly is filled with strong, confident, older women, which has made the entire collection of stories a joy to read. Regine, in Parsons’ “Joinery”, is no exception. I loved the care and dedication with which she approached not only her woodworking but also the other people who lived on the same technologically-backward planet, Diot. When an unexpected stranger arrived in her isolated village, Regine is wary but not suspicious. Grannie Hella knows more than she lets on, and lets on that she knows too much. She also brings with her more than Regine could ever imagine.

I love when a story sucks me into all its layers, and hints at all number of layers that can’t be reached in the course of a single short story but which are clearly there, touched on here and there. Who are the Bright Ones? What is their curse, and can it ever be broken? Why does Grannie Hella come to Regine? All these questions swirl around — some are answered, others, painfully, are not — and the end result is a story that’s both bittersweet and hopeful.

REVIEW: “Crone, Chronos” by Cathrin Hagey

Review of Cathrin Hagey, “Crone, Chronos”, Luna Station Quarterly 36 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

“Your kid’s weird!” Lilianna’s mother is told, and Lilianna knows it’s true: She is weird. But her weirdness is nothing compared to the weirdness of finding a cottage near an old ravine where previously there had been no cottage — and finding inside the cottage someone who knows her name. And not only does the old woman who greets her know her name, she knows a lot more about Lilianna than she should, and a lot more than she lets on.

Despite the uncertainty of Lilianna’s fate, as she questions the rationality of accepting an invitation into a stranger’s house simply on the promise of ice cream, this is a simple, straightforward story, wearing its genre (time-travel) on its sleeve in such a way that you know what the resolution is long before it is reached.

REVIEW: “Under Her White Stars” by Jacob Budenz

Review of Jacob Budenz, “Under Her White Stars”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 106-126 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

I was very glad that this, the final story in the anthology, was one of the longer ones, because it meant that the time I’d be finished with the anthology would be put off. All of the stories in this book have captured so well the desired goal/theme of the anthology, and this capping story didn’t disappoint either.

I loved this story of a freelance witch who cobbles together his living by sometimes working as a healer, sometimes as a seller of spells, and sometimes a witch-hunter. We never learn his name, but his target is Amarande, a witch down south who runs a convenience store and is conning his customers into giving them their souls so that he can be immortal, and he’s got it all planned out…except what he didn’t plan for was his fiancé Lionel coming along with him.

As soon as Lionel wormed his way into the plan, ready to play the role of bait so that the witch could capture Amarande, I read the rest of the story on tenterhooks: Would it have a happy ending? Would it have a sad ending?

It’d be spoilers to tell you, so I’ll just say this: It had exactly the right ending that both the story and the anthology needed.

REVIEW: “Dissonance, Part I” by D. M. Rice

Review of D. M. Rice, “Dissonance, Part I”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 94-105 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

What a strange story! Rice’s piece straddles the boundary between experimental prose and long-form poetry, combining non-standard typesetting, plenty of capitals, italics, and bold, broken and incomplete words, and disjointed/uncertain narration and yet still ending up with a clear voice and distinctive characters — Sir Talon, the narrator; Alfa Behn, whom he asks out on a date; Maestro Belfast, Ezra Gentle, the Elemental Countess of Norwooq, others.

Because of the presentation of the story, it was hard work to read; I had to concentrate on every single individual word, in a way that I don’t ordinarily when reading blocks of prose, when I can take in phrases at a time. I’m still uncertain whether I think the experimental format benefited the story or detracted from it; I suspect that’s something best left to each reader to decide for themself! But if this is Part I, I definitely want to read Part II!

REVIEW: “Your Heart in My Teeth” by V. Medina

Review of V. Medina, “Your Heart in My Teeth”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 82-93 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

A city is made of its people. It only make sense that [its heart] would be human (p. 92)

“You,” we are told in the opening sentence, “find yourself going to the street corner where he died” (p. 82). And yet, though the whole story is told in 2nd person POV, it doesn’t feel — like so many 2nd person POV stories do — to me like some external/omniscient narrator is telling me what I am doing, thinking, feeling. Instead, it feels much more like the narrator is narrating the story to himself, that he is trying to fit the broken pieces of his life back together into a pattern that makes sense.

There’s really no cues indicating how this POV should be read here, but it’s certainly possible to read the story this way, and that’s how I read it, as a story between a narrator and his dead lover, who died in a car crash on that corner, where a little grocer sits. This is the first of the stories in this anthology that has a rather creepy undertone of horror to it, and there is an ambiguity to the ending that I liked a lot. I am also continually impressed at how each of the stories fits into the theme of the anthology as a whole, even when they contain grand statements about the nature of the city itself.

REVIEW: “The Plague-Eater” by Caspian Gray

Review of Caspian Gray, “The Plague-Eater”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 65-81 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

From the start of the story, a few things are clear: Todd, Miguel, and Pills have the comfortable rapport of the best of friends, and Pills is very ill.

What do two friends do when a third is sick? Anything they can to help, it turns out, and for Miguel, that “anything” includes seeking out a night nurse to help care for her — and not any old night nurse, but a plague-eater. (The fact that he can invite Todd along on a not-a-date is an added bonus.)

This was a wonderfully done story — there’s fantasy, with Miguel’s pursuit of the plague eater; there’s romance, between Miguel and Todd; but the central themes that run through the story are deeper, sadder. Pills’ slow succumbing to cancer. The importance of chosen-families. The isolation of blood-family rejection. — which keeps the reader on the edge of uncertainty concerning the outcome, right all the way up until the very end.

REVIEW: “Familiar” by kx carys

Review of kx carys, “Familiar”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 63-64 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Another vignette-type piece, “Familiar” is a brief slice in the live of Margaux and Cassia, witches and lovers. Cassia needs a familiar, and she wants a raven; Margaux thinks that’s gauche. Cassia doesn’t want another cat, and eventually she brings Margaux around.

Because the story was so short, there was little character development or anything else to give me a sense of why the resolution came about the way that it did. I would have liked to have seen more, to have this turned into a rounder, deeper story. But I’m glad Cassia got her raven in the end.