Strange Horizons, June 6, 2016

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.

Strange Horizons, June 6, 2016

“The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R.” by Benjamin C. Kinney

Reviewed by Dave Truesdale

For some reason I found this story rather confusing. In essence, it’s the story of a woman who has died and returned as a ghost in the house in which she once lived. There is a certain sequence of events she experiences repeatedly, ending each time with her dissolution. We run through this short sequence several times before she is able to slightly alter the outcome, and at one point she is able to communicate with a new inhabitant of her former home, a female college student who is torn between going to a different college than her lesbian lover, who has been accepted to a college in Chicago, or remaining where she is. The female ghost—the Anita R. of the title—and this young girl bond and Anita has persuaded the girl not to follow her lover to Chicago but remain where she is to attend the local college.

Part of my confusion deals with character indentification. At several points “Luis” either is, or appears to be to Anita, a young girl (at one point) or a young boy (at another point), when the rest of the story tells us that Luis is Anita’s prick of a husband and it is he she blames for her death some thirty years ago, though we’re told that Luis is also deceased, some six years previous. Another point of confusion presents itself near the end, when Anita R. is speaking with the young college student and addresses her as Luis—as if she (Anita) might be taking part in some weird experiment with Luis able to listen in (?), and she needs his help to extricate her from the time loops she’s experiencing as a ghost. Or something (there’s hints of a story within a story here, or not–see the story title). It’s hard to unravel what the author is trying to accomplish here and why this style was selected as the best to convey whatever point was trying to be made. Is it such a difficult concept to relate, that this fractured style is the only way the story could be told? And I must say that there’s a tipping point between being clever and too clever by half—a point of diminishing returns—when too much clever crosses into the territory of total confusion for the struggling reader. And this final point must be asked as well: Even if the astute, careful reader is able to put in the time and effort to follow the story events as presented and come to—with certainty—the meaning of the story (whatever it might be), was it worth the effort? Did the point of the story justify the work the reader put into it?

Dave Truesdale has edited Tangent and now Tangent Online since 1993. It has been nominated for the Hugo Award six times, and the World Fantasy Award once. A former editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he also served as a World Fantasy Award judge in 1998, and for several years wrote an original online column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Now retired, he keeps close company with his SF/F library, the coffeepot, and old movie channels on TV. He lives in Kansas City, MO.