REVIEW: “The Fiddler at the Heart of the World” by Samantha Henderson

Review of Samantha Henderson, “The Fiddler at the Heart of the World”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 217-230. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

There are some stories I shouldn’t try to read in public. Stories set in emergency rooms are on generally on the list. Stories set in emergency rooms and told in such a visceral way are high up on that list. Even when they are stories with happy endings — as when Dr. Jessie takes in the power of the fiddler at the heart of the world and harnesses it so that no one dies on her ward that night — there is something horrible about them (in the old-style use of ‘horrible’, full of horror…). I had to read this story reminding myself not to cry in public.

So many of the poets in this anthology are poets by some combination of choice necessity, and birthright. Dr. Jessie’s story is different from the others, because she becomes the conduit for the fiddler almost unconsciously. All she knows is that she fights on the side of life, with whatever means she has.

Henderson’s story also differs from some of the other stories in this anthology because the poet is not the viewpoint. We see the events unfolding through the viewpoint of Berto, the janitor, who isn’t one of the plainfolk, like Dr. Jessie is, but rather one of the half-fae people who can see and talk to the gods. He knows the power that Dr. Jessie calls upon unknowingly, and thus the reader knows it too; but like Berto, all the reader can do is stand on the sidelines and hope there isn’t too much to mop up in the end.