Strange Horizons, November 12, 2012
Reviewed by Matthew Nadelhaft
Jennifer Linnaea’s “He Reminds Us” is an understated yet evocative piece of fiction continuing what I hope will be a strong month for Strange Horizons. In Linnaea’s short story the great landscape painter Venturo visits the world of Yarres to paint its crystal plains and lavender skies. He is accompanied by an apprentice, Harkiran, and the narrator, who makes her home on Yarres and acts as guide both to the terrain and the rules and customs of the planet.
The character of Venturo himself is the weakest part of the story, from his rather unimaginative, generic-artistic-sounding name to his equally unimaginative artistically temperamental personality. He refuses to indulge the narrator’s desire to hear him characterize her home planet as beautiful; he destroys his canvasses in tantrums of perfectionism. But those paintings salvaged by his long-suffering yet quick-witted assistant are judged masterworks when they are sent back to Earth.
While both the artists and his assistant are stereotyped and fairly shallow characters, the story succeeds in-as-much as it is about art and not the artist. After Venturo’s death, his apprentice returns to Yarres, and to the narrator, to try his hand at painting a different part of the world. Both surviving characters have been changed by their part in the encounter between Venturo and Yarres and both have lost something in the aftermath. Linnaea highlights the power of art to remake reality by constructing alternate ways of seeing which forever alter the perspectives of those touched by them. Linnaea’s descriptions of Yarres are much stronger than her depiction of the people in the story, as if Yarres, the object and subject of the artist’s gaze, is the central character. It is the changed image of her home world, after it is captured by the master painter, the narrator finds so disturbing, as we would find it disturbing if some person of great importance to us suddenly became very different. It’s a strong and insightful point, but one that would have benefited from a longer story with deeper characterizations. Art is, after all, something created by artists, for an audience – and this, of course, includes the work of writers.