Fantasy Magazine #52, July 2011
“Union Falls’ by J. S. Breukelaar
“The Machine” by M. Rickert (Reprint)
“The Wolves of Brooklyn” by Catherynne M. Valente
“Swans” by Kelly Link (Reprint)
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple
J. S. Breukelaar works the age old theme of the power of music in “Union Falls.” Deel has an idea the girl is trouble when she walks in looking to audition for the piano player gig in the bar cover band. The fact that the girl took a dip in the lake to cool off from the June heat on the way to her interview is one clue. The look in her eyes when Deel notices the fact that her prospective piano player has no arms or hands is another. She does everything with her feet and is very accomplished at using them to make up for her missing hands. Within minutes of playing it is clear the girl can play. But, Deel has a sense that beyond the obvious signs, this one is going to be a problem in some way. Despite Deel’s misgivings, Ame gets the gig.
Beyond the support of those who’ve heard her play, Deel has no real choice. After all, Ame was the sole applicant. Beyond that, Deel knows the bar is in real trouble and needs the help. Ame isn’t the first stray Deel has taken in but may prove the most interesting. Her presence is something the likes of which the good folk of Union City have never seen and it isn’t just because she has no arms or hands. Her music has powerful meaning in so many ways that gradually become clear over the course of this complicated and introspective story.
This is an interesting tale on the surface and at far deeper levels. This is one of those stories that will resonate differently with each reader as it plugs at heartstrings and past loss. For those of us of a certain age who value and remember well the music of the 70s and 80s this story is, at times, a trip down memory lane.
The other original story in this issue is “The Wolves of Brooklyn” by Catherynne M. Valente. When the wolves first came it became what everyone talked about afterwards. Even those who didn’t live anywhere near Flatbush Ave. claimed to have seen the wolves moving across the snow. They stay in the area, won’t cross the bridges, and hide from strangers. But, residents see them on a frequent basis.
Occasionally somebody gets eaten. But, usually the wolves mark their victims in some way and then pass by. The snow never ends. The silent wolves, bigger then horses, are always around. Whether they are real or not is the question. At least a couple of the residents aren’t sure the wolves truly are real.
This is a tale of loss and lament in a story that makes astute observations about the world today. In particular, about how New Yorkers see the rest of the country and how we see New York. With an obvious allusion to “Little Red Riding Hood,” this is a tale that blends magic and reality in a way that entertains and at the same time never really answers the questions posed. It is noted in the author interview that this is the first story Valente has written since taking over at Apex Magazine.
Unlike last month’s issue, humor is not really present in either of these two stories. Both strike a somber tone and outlook upon the world. In both cases, the pang of regret and lament are present. Instead of balancing each other off as the tales of the last issue did, these two serve more as bookends regarding the same human condition. How these strong tales are received will vary widely from reader to reader depending on personal experiences.