Reviewed by Kris Rudin
“Everything Beneath You” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam is reminiscent of a Chinese fable. It is the story of Zhou, a woman who longs to be a sailor but is forbidden by the strictures of her culture. She is also a woman who loves other women, and while this is allowed, she can somehow never fully love them, because of her other desire. The story is almost a love story, but is more than that. It is a story about longings – longing to be someone you are not. The phrasing of the story helps it to feel like a fable, as well as what happens to Zhou during the story. She leaves home and meets a sort of female sea-god, Huan, who fulfills her desires of a ship and a woman to love. But Huan’s father destroys the ship and takes Huan back. Zhou partners with a sea dragon to “cross the wall” into the land of the gods and confront Huan’s father. The choice he gives Zhou at the end is very much in keeping with that of a fable. If I hadn’t known better, I would think it was an actual Chinese fairy tale.
Like the previous story, “The Metamorphoses of Narcissus” by Tamara Vardomskaya deals with longings. And also change, as the title implies. Set in an indeterminate time and place, it is the story of an unnamed young woman who aspires to be a dancer. While at a dance conservatory she is approached by the partner of a famous “transformational” artist’s partner, and she becomes a model in his works (which would appear to be the modern equivalent of performance art – tableaux staged by the artist) and is eventually expelled from the conservatory for her continued absences. At one such performance a patron receives an important message and declares that their country has been attacked and they are now at war. The artist is commandeered by the government to use his transformational art in camouflaging strategic bases and equipment. The young dancer becomes a nurse to help in the war effort. The transformational art of the story is really a metaphor for the transformations that the main characters go through. It is a well-written story, but lacks a bit of punch.