"Alone in the House of Mims" by Barth Anderson
"Alone in the House of Mims" by Barth Anderson is this week's fiction offering at Strange Horizons. The story reflects hope and desire, traces the twists and bends of humor, anger, despair, joy, and lust, only to illuminate the nature of sorrow and self-awareness at the end. Shakespeare would be jealous at how neatly Mr. Anderson hits the human elements.
California is a wanna-be actor/imitator and has joined a troupe of actors and students in a last-ditch effort after being rejected by another troupe and failing to make the grade for his worst critic–his mother. Bruised by his failures, he discovers Wyhoff doing an impression of Prince onstage, and astounded by the man's ability, decides to become an impressionist.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, few members of the troupe seem to recognize it, and certainly the director, Big Core, has nothing good to say about California's abilities. Still he struggles on, recognizing that he doesn't possess the same caliber of talent the other class members do, yet anxious to do the best he can.
The speculative element of this story is hinted at rather than spelled out, and I appreciated the subtlety. The fact that a miscommunication occurs–that both Wyhoff and California feel they understand the other–is solely due to the real distance between these two characters. As the imitator becomes the imitated, we wind through a maze of twisted mirrors that distorts our perception of just who is the real chameleon. It's a don't miss tale with lots to ponder when the story is over and done. Still, I rather wish the backflashes had been less intrusive, and that Mr. Anderson's subtlety hadn't extended to California's crush on Wyhoff.