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bookgazing ([personal profile] bookgazing) wrote in [community profile] ladybusiness2017-11-06 03:19 pm

Short Business: October Reading

Following a recent impassioned call for more short fiction reviewing, made by [ profile] ClowderofTwo, I'm trying to get back into regularly talking about the few pieces of short fiction I manage to read each month. Quality, not quantity is my battle cry! So, here's what I read in October:

"The Husband Stitch" by Carmen Maria Machado

Susan sent me a link to this weird little story saying it's 'about male entitlement and urban legends and it's INTERESTING' and it is certainly that. An unnamed girl, who is hungry for sexual release, marries a boy whose appetites, and intensity, match her own. In the classic style of fairytales she forbids him only one thing; he must not touch the green ribbon she wears around her neck. As the story wears on, the man becomes more and more unsatisfied with this one restriction; pushing at his bride until tragedy strikes. "The Husband Stitch" is partly the Bluebeard myth in reverse - the woman holds the secret and the man's destructive curiosity spells their doom. Unfortunately, this role reversal doesn't mean the woman in this story comes off better than Bluebeard's wife.

This summary makes the story sound much simpler than it is. Woven into its structure are fairytales, urban legends, and notes on how to read, or perform, the text. The woman's relationship with her husband is fleshed out much further than it would be in a fairytale, and we see her life unfold before us. She has a son, and the labour, then motherhood, gives the reader even more of an insight into the kind of world that she lives in. It's interesting to see a woman who is so free sexually, and often so unencumbered by limiting patriarchal expectations about women's role in the marriage bed, still so tied down by a patriarchal culture (and by patriarchal fairytale conventions). The idea of having a sexually liberated, confident, unashamed heroine, who is encouraged in her desires, be bound by other kinds of strictures is not something I see a lot of in stories, and I found it very intriguing.

"The Husband Stitch" reminds me of stories by Angela Carter and Helen Oyeyemi. Ana, if you're reading this, I am basically saying you should read it too.

"Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber" by Malon Edwards

"Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber" is probably my second favourite story of the month, although I struggle to explain why. I think maybe it's because this story is such a breath of fresh air to me. I've never read anything like it before with its 'lurksuit' narrator, female bomber protagonist, and their internal conversation. Edward's world is so different, and it's exciting to see each new world-building detail appear. The voices he creates are so vibrant and natural. And the regret, the complicated love, between the two main characters (the girl assassin and the boy she got killed then had rebuilt) is incredibly tender. A good reminder that I should get better at reading downloaded issues because if this is the first story FIYAH published then there must be plenty more gems inside their first issue.

"The Joy of Baking" by Holly Lyn Walrath

I found these next two stories via SFF Reviews, so thanks to my fellow reviewers for highlighting them. "The Joy of Baking" is about a waiting room for souls which await reincarnation. Only once they've recovered from the death of their last body can they move on to a new life. Part of the repair process involves them eating cake baked by their immortal caregivers Sofia and Luciana. Not much happens in "The Joy of Baking" but it is a simple, heart-warming story. A child soul, Hiran, regains his strength and happiness. A jaundiced alcoholic begins the healing process. Cake is the universal healer; both a physical comfort and a metaphor for the careful act of rebuilding a soul. It's a real feel good story, and a light, lovely joy to read.

"Maps of Infinity" by Heather Morris

A mythological retelling that broke my heart. You really need to go into this story without knowing exactly who all the players are for the full effect so I'll just say that this story develops its two main characters like a boss. I loved seeing their stories unfold slowly until they eventually meet each other. I also loved the changes that Morris made to the myth. I must confess, I've always had a soft spot for her hero, and I was glad to see such a sympathetic, different take on their life.

"If We Live to Be Giants" by Allison Mulder

A piece of fairytale fiction about two sisters who fight against growing up with all their might because growing could spell their death. "If We Live to Be Giants" packs in all the usual feminist fairytale subtext - forbidden female sexuality, murderous fathers, the dangers of maturation for young girls - into a tight, flash-fiction package. And it's set apart from similar stories by its choice of fairytale characters - it's so rare to see female giants as the focus of a story. In fact, I can't think of another story where they're the protagonists (rec 'em if you've got 'em). This is a really smart concept story that I'd love to see extended (stories of the giant sisters at different stages of their lives would be so interesting).

Other Stories

I also read the whole of Uncanny Magazine's October Issue for review at SFF Reviews. My review of N. K. Jemisin's "Henosis" is up now.

I won't talk about all the other individual stories as my reviews will be appearing over at that site between October 2017 and January 2018 but just wanted to mention that my personal favourites were "Fandom for Robots" by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (sentient robot gets involved in slash fandom) and "Ghost Town" by Malinda Lo (a contemporary story about a small town, a haunted house, and a lesbian teenager who games the local homophobes). "Down and Out in R'lyeh" by Catherynne M. Valente also kind of captured my heart just for its sheer inventiveness and playful use of language.

Finally, I started Sarah Gailey's serial The Fisher of Bones and really enjoyed the first three installments before… forgetting to read any more of it. I'm just not built for serials so I guess I'll be waiting until it's all released. Anyway, it's about a woman whose dying father transfers his role as Prophet on to her. I actually like it better than Gailey's River of Teeth, in terms of pacing (that book needs to be at least a few chapters longer) and I'm very attracted to the lush, sensory description it uses in places. I look forward to making my way through it when every piece is released.

Know a story you think I should read in November? Drop me a line in the comments.
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)

[personal profile] forestofglory 2017-11-07 12:36 am (UTC)(link)
Just dropping by to say I'm glad you've been writing more short business recently.

Short Stories!

(Anonymous) 2017-11-07 12:49 am (UTC)(link)
I also really love "The Husband Stitch." I've in general really been enjoying Carmen Maria Machado's work, and I really need to get around to her new collection, Her Body and Other Parties.

It's not giants, but "The Dark Birds" by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine) is about the daughters of an ogre. Very creepy, a lot of fairy tale motifs.

If you haven't read it, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” by Rebecca Roanhorse is a fantastic science fiction story (also in Apex). I'd highly recommend it.

I'm also a big fan of "Secondhand Bodies" by JY Yang.

Re: Short Stories!

[identity profile] 2017-11-07 12:50 am (UTC)(link)
Shoot! I forgot to put my ID in. I'm Sarah of The Illustrated Page, a.k.a. @coolcurrybooks on Twitter.