Crossed Genres #28, April 2015
Reviewed by Lillian Csernica
“Loud as a Murder” by Sarah L. Johnson
Henry is a high-functioning autistic man who works as a proofreader. He has created a work environment that makes the best of his skills and behaviors. This includes the Tuesday ritual of accepting the UPS delivery. Henry has fallen in love with Dev, the UPS driver. He becomes so preoccupied with the signals he may or may not be receiving from Dev that his proofreading work suffers. The same manuscript comes back to him three times, with the last line showing a very strange pattern of typos. The meaning behind this pattern provides Henry with the answers to some very dangerous questions.
Let me start off by praising Ms. Johnson’s portrayal of Henry as being autistic. The literal-mindedness, the difficulty with reading faces, the anxiety behaviors and the coping mechanisms all ring so true. The story takes considerable skill to tell. The reader needs to see certain clues, yet seeing them through Henry’s interpretations prevents the curse of predictability. I enjoyed the strong suspense that starts to build right from the beginning. The ending includes one of the best dramatic reversals I’ve seen in ages. After I was done reading, the story still held me in its grip for several minutes. Here we have some really excellent writing.
“Trollbooth” by Maureen Tanafon
Little Mary and James have gone missing. Their mute fifteen year old stepsister, the protagonist, soothes her frantic stepmother and makes her own plans to recover the children while her uncle gathers the local men and searches the woods. The stepsister believes the fairies have taken the children, but the truth is much worse.
I respect the stepsister’s efforts to retrieve the little boy and girl. I like the troll, how it looks and its general attitude toward humans. Unfortunately, the story left me with several questions. The family dynamic isn’t clear. The heroine has a stepmother. What happened to her mother and father? The stepmother has two small children. Did she bring them with her to the marriage, or do they and the stepsister share the same father? Why is the stepmother so weak and ill? Why is the stepsister mute? How did she gain the ability to communicate with fairies? The stepsister makes reference to how killing fairies becomes an addiction. How does she know this? The idea is intriguing, but it stops there. The story lacks a solid grounding in the problems within the family that prompt Mary and James to take such a tremendous risk. Understanding the needs and resentments that collide beneath the surface would add the depth that this story needs.
“A Language We Shared” by Megan Neumann
Thirteen year old Chinese-American June Mei can’t understand her grandfather Gung Gung, who only speaks Cantonese. June’s mother is very angry over June refusing to make more of an effort to talk to Gung Gung. The story takes place on the day June Mei and Gung Gung finally come to a meeting of the minds. June’s mother insists they all go for a drive to the park so they can get some exercise. Gung Gung rarely goes out, and June Mei would rather stay home and read, so it’s not a pleasant drive. Gung Gung and June’s mother get into an argument just as they cross a narrow old bridge, causing June’s mother to plunge through the rail and into the lake below. The emergency prompts Gung Gung and June Mei to achieve an unusual method of communication.
This could be called a coming of age story about the importance of why one should respect one’s elders. The historical bits in Gung Gung’s backstory add depth to his character but they don’t really do all that much for the story as a whole. I found this to be a pleasant read with some endearing moments, but there’s just not that much to it. One fantasy element brought out by the pressure of emergency circumstances “rescues” June Mei rather than June Mei working through a strong character arc.