The past few weeks I haven’t been reading as much as I would like. Heck, when am I? But these pieces have definitely stuck out for me. I hope you will enjoy them, too.
Promises We Made Under a Brick-Dark Sky by Karen Osborne
Okay, I have to admit I wasn’t super into the beginning of Promises We Made Under a Brick-Dark Sky by Karen Osborne. The religious tone of it was almost too much for me. However, I kept coming back to the story. Nibbling at it like a fish. Because, the religious tone was also intriguing. Intoxicating in a way. The story begins not only with blasphemy, but with the murder of god. How can that not raise some questions.
It was in the second part where I really got into this story, though, when we begin to see that “prayer” involves coding and we begin to wonder what god really is or was. What religion really is. While the story peels back layers of religion and worship, it also peels back a different kind of faith — the faith people have in lovers and promises of eternity.
Although this story wasn’t exactly a polyamorous story, it did a great job of flipping around the jealous woman trope and examining what relationships actually are and what rules hold them up. In fact, it questions rules constantly. Rules of relationships, religion, technology, and community. The fear of breaking those rules, the fear of rebuilding. Of the unknown. Of dismantling structures. It’s a LOT to pack into such a little story.
I’m Feeling Lucky by Leonid Kaganov
I have to say this is the opposite of Brick-Dark Sky for me. I loved the beginning. This was love at first paragraph, when you forgive later red flags just because the initial fall was so hard and so good. The circular ending of the story feels a little predictable, but not in a bad way. More of in an inevitable way: as if this is the story you have always heard and will always be because there is no other option. The narration ends on a positive note while my actual emotions were more soured, which created an uncomfortable dissonance. But uncomfortable isn’t bad when we’re talking about the end of the world.
So if you want a story about running away as an individual and as a society, of avoiding responsibility, of inevitability… then I’m Feeling Lucky is a good one. It’s available on Clarkesworld, translated from the original Russian by Alex Shivartsman.
The Child Feast of Harridan Sack by Kaitlyn Zivanovich
This story is a PseudoPod original. The narration by Jasmine Blake is absolutely chilling. First, a warning: this piece includes child endangerment and child sexual grooming. It is a story I saw people tweeting about and wanted to check out, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle it. As a parent, I’ve found that harm to my children is much more frightening than harm to me ever was. Harm to children is a complicated fear that is entwined with guilt, compounding it into a huge emotion that can be absolutely debilitating. I decided to listen to it last night and almost turned it off during the introduction when the host asks, “Do you know where your children are?” I did know where my children were. They were in the next room over. But the window was open (it’s hot as blazes these days) and I wasn’t sure if I could handle that vulnerability and the story at the same time.
I kept listening, though, and I am glad I did. But if you can’t, that’s fine. This is not a story for everyone.
I remember being obsessed with child grooming movies in my late teens and early twenties. While reading this story, I kept comparing it in my mind to the 2010 film trust_. I feel that both that film and this story served an important role in showing how grooming affects children (and families) long-term: that many children may not understand or admit what happened for months, years, or ever. This is a difficult topic, but it is an important one, especially as the internet becomes more and more accessible to younger children. In particular, Zivanovich shows how in the fairy tale, children are turned back into children but in real life they are forever changed. There is no returning to normalcy.
Getting into the technique of this story… it was mind blowing. The Child Feast of Harridan Sack features a story within a story. The traditional witch in the woods who steals misbehaving children and is outwitted by the mother is superimposed on the modern story of a preteen girl who is groomed online and falls in love with the pedophile. Zivanovich weaves these two stories together so brilliantly that at the end, you realize you are listening to a modern fairy tale, something you should learn from, and things change and morph, but there will always be evil. It leaves this meta melancholy to it that is brilliant.