Strange Horizons, June 4 & 11, 2012
Reviewed by John Sulyok
“Dense and hidden, its forms obscure still, its structure still unwrit,” concludes the first part of K. M. Ferebee’s “The Keats Variation,” referring to events within the story. A strong case, however, could be made that it works better to describe the writing. Hidden away within dense, cluttered writing, bogged down by archaic, self-indulgent words, is the story of a “young” boy of indeterminate age. He is a surgeon’s apprentice caught in a plot both unremarkable for its lack of shape and uninteresting for its lack of focus.
The purpose of the story is never clear. It does seem like Ferebee knew where it was going, but didn’t know how to get the reader there. What little can be discerned is that Keats is bullied by older boys, he fears the Devil, there is a bird and a knight, and the ending is exactly what you expect it to be in context, if not in content. Imagery and metaphor have replaced plot and strong characters.
The content is not the only culprit, either. Redundant phrasing, a slew of double negatives, poor word choices, and grammatical and punctuation errors make “Keats” a chore to read. There is no excuse for letting phrases like: “she did not disbelieve him”; “it pricked him with unease”; and “he was stood close by now” get through the editorial process. And unless you know the meaning of “bespoke,” “incalescent,” “mephitic,” or (and this one will really challenge your mind’s-tongue) “phthisic,” you will continually hit these speed bumps.
I see no silver lining to make trudging through “The Keats Variation” worth your time.