This is the final installment of The Horror Vs. Europe smackdown in which I pit stories from the scareiffic horror anthologies Dark Forces (Edited by Kirby McCauley) and Best of Shadows (Ed. Charles L. Grant) against stories from Best European Fiction 2010 (Ed. Aleksandar Hemon).
The Silent Cradle by Leigh Kennedy Vs. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
The Silent Cradle by Leigh Kennedy: It’s to Charles L. Grant’s credit that he ran so many feminist stories in his anthology. This one’s about a two-parent, two-child family that realizes it has a third, unseen child, somehow. All the manifestations of a child are there except for the physical presence of a child. The story proceeds to game out the logic of that premise, which is similar to the big secret at the heart of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, to a paradoxically sad conclusion. It does this well, but is a bit like a wind-up toy; once you see how it goes, there’s not much to do but watch it run its course. That sting in the tail resonates, though, even if one sees it coming. I’ve complained previously about genre fiction’s weakness for pointless gimcrack twist endings, but this one works because it’s more interesting as an endpoint than as a jumping-off point; added to which, it’s a strong thematic resolution.
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy: This is an extremely tantalizing excerpt from a novel that was shortlisted for the Booker prize. A woman who seems to be improvising her life, love- and otherwise, turns up at a vacation home, only there’s confusion about reservations and 2 families are already there. Things almost stay polite. Tensions and hostilities are just barely restrained. Someone’s going to have to leave.
Compare/contrast: Both stories involve an unexpected arrival who throws a family or two into confusion. The former plays out its odd logic in linear fashion, while the latter twists about and lets us feel the jerk of every curve.
Verdict: Kennedy’s story might have hit me more viscerally if its structuring near-absence was a cat instead of a child. I’ve checked Swimming Home out from the library.
Additional proof of Swimming Home’s worth: negative reviews from obvious dullards on Amazon. Yeah, yeah, smug elitism, boo hoo blubber sob, I’M A MONSTER.
Wish by Al Sarrantonio Vs. Ballad of Ann Bonny by Alasdair Gray
Wish by Al Sarrantonio: A child got a wish, so now it’s Christmas every day. Imagine every kitschy representation of secular Christmas reworked as a dystopian anime and you’re in the ballpark. Sarrantonio has written my favorite Ray Bradbury story of this whole review project, and that includes the one that was actually by Ray Bradbury.
Ballad of Ann Bonny by Alasdair Gray: This story is a nautical murder ballad in eccentric but highly readable verse. All the rhymes are interior, which, combined with differing line lengths, yields a drunken wave-tossed verse that suits this drunkard’s confession of nautical loves and hatreds. The material seems grounded in authentic folk sources, while the style is enlivened by modernist stylings.
Compare/contrast: Both stories draw on pre-20th century folk materials (Christmas kitsch, nautical ballads) for source material, and both involve terrible problems at high elevations (to say more would be spoilery for both). Wish is overtly fantastical, and delighted with its own cartoonish audacity (as was I); the latter is more subtly outlandish, and more genuinely sorrowful. It is about murder, after all.
Verdict: I endorse both. I wanna see the animated version of Wish, and hear the song setting of Ann Bonny.
The Spider Glass by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro Vs. Indigo's Mermaid by Penny Simpson
The Spider Glass by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: Another retro club tale. This is my favorite of the batch. A desperate woman tries to rob, but is subsequently employed by, a mysterious lordly man who may, or may not, be a worthy employer/lover. But this gothic tale is mediated by the frame story, which plays smart games with the cozily chauvinistic norms of club tales; the usual tipsy, garrulous men become drunken, bitchy, sexist creeps. Yarbro seems half-fond of them, as one might be fond of naughty children or destructive pets, but her feminist critique of the genre’s assumptions makes this a lively text, even though it’s rather long and has made most of its points well before the end. (Yarbro has perhaps heard such complaints before; much of the story involves men complaining that the story is too long, and the storyteller struggling to keep control of his audience.)
Indigo's Mermaid by Penny Simpson. Here’s a suggestion for any film producers who wish they could do a Nicholas Sparks, but lack the money and connections to snag the option rights; give Penny Simpson a look. In this tale a bereaved artist father (his son was murdered in lurid fashion) confronts his own jealousy of his son’s accomplishments, and makes tearful peace with the late son’s bohemian girlfriend. If you can’t make a hit movie out of that, you best find a different career.
Compare/contrast: both stories proceed from men who are jerks, to men who aren’t. In Yarbro’s case she accomplishes this transition by introducing a guy who’s better than normal men (despite, or because, he is A VAMPIRE); Simpson follows one man who starts out bitter and cruel, but learns to Let Go and be nice to pretty girls. HOP ON IT, MOVIE PRODUCERS. Also, both stories are concerned with artistic work as a subject. Yarbro’s narrator luxuriates in the details of his story while struggling to pacify his quarrelsome audience. Simpson’s sculptor protagonist is constantly challenged by the crafted representations of both his son (whose sculptures pop up all over the place) and the young woman (who plays a mermaid in a shop window, and makes various attempts to explain her side of the story).
Verdict: I enjoyed spending time with Yarbro as she lobbed spitballs at Victorian Red Pill MRAs. Simpson’s story has serious commercial potential unlike this blog thank you and goodnight.