REVIEW SUMMARY: To welcome November, Short Fiction Friday focuses on two of the latest free fiction selections from Tor.com.
BRIEF SUMMARY: The two stories reviewed this week focus on two different stages in the lives of young girls, one that examines disappointment and regret over birthday wishes not granted and the other looks at an adolescent girl whose coming-of-age changes are reflected in a series of strange and unsettling events at her house by the sea.
PROS: Tight, solid prose; well-written female protagonists; seasonal sentiments are present in both stories with one having a nicely wicked thread of humor.
CONS: None for me folks, I liked these both very much.
BOTTOM LINE: These two October 2013 offerings from Tor.com provide two different emotional experiences for the reader: one is mysterious and creepy and has some nice depth to sink one’s teeth into in regards to discussion points, the other is wry and a bit twisted but also very sweet without resorting to saccharine sentiment. The characters are easy to relate to and the prose is skillfully wrought. Don’t miss these.
Yukio is a young teen girl who hears the sea calling out to her, asking her to return. She lives with other young people in a house on the shore where she attends to daily chores and is taught by proctors who have given her to believe that it her destiny to control the sea. But as the voice from the tide grows more insistent, intruding on her sleep with tangible nightmares and whispering to her during her waking moments, Yukio begins to wonder if she will ever be able to master that control, let alone ignore the beckoning siren call.
Vanhee’s story reflects a sense of melancholy and loss not uncommon with stories about the sea. Though it smacks of hyperbole to say that you can practically hear the lap of the waves and smell the salt on the air, reading “Come Back to the Sea” was a fresh reminder of how words, skillfully used, can touch off sensory memories within. Jason Vanhee presents a protagonist trying to cope with increasingly disturbing experiences, one who is confused about the events playing out around her. She appears to be a very genuine character and while the majority of the story has the reader also questioning what is real and what is imagined, the story never feels unapproachable. It is well grounded in the realm of many coming of age stories and it is not hard to see Yukio’s experiences as both a part of a greater fantasy story unfolding around her and also as symbolic of the tumult of adolescence and the search for independence and stability amidst the chaos of physical and social change.
“Come Back to the Sea” is a wonderful story to read on a rainy autumn day. As a companion piece I would recommend another Tor.com story featured earlier in the year, “Abyssus Abyssum Invocat”, written by Genevieve Valentine which I reviewed here.
The evocative art for this story is created by Pascal Campion. When you read the story I think you will agree that it perfectly represents Yukio and her experience as told by Jason Vanhee.
“Brimstone and Marmalade” by Aaron Corwin
Mathilde knew what “we’ll see” meant. It was one of those special lies that only grown-ups were allowed to tell.
Tor.com’s positioning of Corwin’s short story on the eve of All Hallow’s Eve couldn’t have been more appropriate, but even a day removed from the Halloween festivities this short strikes cords of familiarity with the majority of people who grew up in the Western world. There are gift items wished for on one’s birthday that have become traditions over the years and certainly the most popular for girls is the desire for a pony. With Mathilde’s birthday fast approaching she is not shy about letting all and sundry know what she wants. When she is told “no” and is offered a demon for a pet instead, she is less than enthused, a feeling that continues even after she is given a path to make her wishes come true. Like many good stories for, or featuring, children, there is a valuable life lesson here. In the case of “Brimstone and Marmalade” that life lesson is poignant regardless of age. Aaron Corwin offers up a sweet, delightfully off-center story that feels as if a thread of 1950’s nostalgia is woven skillfully throughout. There is an “everyman” feel to the story and Mathilde never ventures near the line of being an annoying protagonist. Instead we cheer for her early on and feel for her as the story unfolds.
Corwin’s world-building is crafted in a way that you cannot see the seams. Within a matter of lines it seems perfectly acceptable to see a world in which small demons are sold in specialty pet stores. It is that aspect, and the specific pet that Mathilde is gifted with, which accounts for the elements of humor in Corwin’s tale. Tor.com introduces Aaron Corwin as an “up-and-coming writer from Seattle”. I would say he has arrived. The prose flows well, the story is artfully crafted, the humor is subtle and nuanced and the sentiment has just the right level of sweetness.
This one is a winner.
The illustration for this story is by Chris Buzelli. It not only perfectly represents the principal characters in this story, but the style reflects the old-fashioned sentiment of the story beautifully.