Crossed Genres #32, August 2015

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Crossed Genres #32, August 2015

Where Do You Go to, My Lovely?” by Yusra Amjad

Infinite Skeins” by Naru Dames Sundar
The Copperlin U.S. Post Office Manual” by Lauren Rudin

Reviewed by Nicky Magas

Imagine a world in which food has the ability to transport the diner into a living dream—or a horrible nightmare. This is the gift Yusra Amjad gives to a select few of her characters in “Where Do You Go to, My Lovely?” Here, the transcendent experience of eating is taken to the next level as some cooks have the ability to infuse their meals with their emotions. When recipients eat these meals literally made from the heart they are transported to a heaven of their own imagining, or the hell of their darkest memories. Where the eater ultimately goes depends on a lot of factors, and there are rules for both the chef and the diner: don’t eat food that isn’t meant for you, don’t cook for someone you’re not supposed to love, and above all, never cook when you’re angry.

The plot in “Where Do You Go to, My Lovely?” is very subtle; don’t blink or you’ll miss it. On the surface it’s an introduction to an interesting magic system, but dig deep enough and you’ll find the complexities of familial interaction nestled around the heart and soul of the home—the hearth. The narrative glides very smoothly from one point to another, picking up pieces of the world for the reader to observe before placing them back down again and carrying on. The idea that food can reflect the maker’s emotions within the diner was especially pleasing. Eating by itself is such an intimate and universal experience that giving the cook the ability to influence the mental state of the diner by infusing food with emotional energy is an immediately accessible concept to readers.

Ayo and Kuan’s Daughter Xikele has vanished without a trace in “Infinite Skeins” by Naru Dames Sundar. After the same sex couple worked so hard to have a child made from both their chromosomes, the loss has sent the women into despair. But where Kuan deals with her grief by turning to painting, Ayo spends her hours—and her connections with her laboratory—searching for their daughter amid the infinite possible alternate dimensions. Yet in each possible iteration of her daughter’s room that she moves through, none of the Xikeles she finds are the exact copy of her daughter she’s looking for. Despite Kaun and her coworkers telling her to give up the likely fruitless and doubtlessly immoral search, Ayo grows all the more desperate and in her desperation makes an unfortunate mistake.

While overall “Infinite Skeins” is a thoughtful story about loss and balance, it is definitely strongest in its second half. The narrative is disjointed and choppy and difficult to follow in the first half, with ideas and concepts drifting in and out as ephemerally as Ayo when she moves through skeins. There is little to hold onto until the story begins to translate itself in the second half when the reader gets a sense of what Ayo is doing, how she is doing it, and why. At that point the reader truly gets a sense of Ayo’s dilemma: is she kidnapping someone else’s daughter to replace her own, or merely reclaiming her own Xikele from another dimension? The final scene in the story adds another, barely touched upon consequence of Ayo’s actions that brings the whole thing to a conclusion that the reader (who by now has become fully immersed in Ayo’s desperate mind) can’t help but be haunted by.

In “The Copperlin U.S. Post Office Manual” by Lauren Rudin, a gateway to the afterlife has opened in the far north and through it, letters from the dead pour out. They appear in random places, but always inevitably make their way through the Sunday postal system, where employees diligently hand them to their recipients. The job description definitely has its quirks, but the ability to give people messages from their deceased loved ones makes it more fulfilling than ordinary work by far.

The Copperlin U.S. Post Office Manual” loses its premise from the get-go. Although it is presented as a manual with appendices and subtitles throughout, the story is told in the first person with little hint of an implied audience or the sort of structured, professional presentation of information one would expect to find in a handbook. In fact, aside from a brief mention in each section, little is said in regard to what the subtitles promise. The bubbly protagonist recounts specific events in her day-to-day work in jumbled scenes that stretch over many months. These scenes aren’t fixed, and the protagonist seems to jump in and out of them while confusingly maintaining a present tense narrative. Plot threads are frequently introduced but don’t lead anywhere, leaving the reader ultimately both confused and dissatisfied with the direction, conclusion and point of the story as a whole.