"The Mushroom" by Brian Conn
"The Fat Suit" by Steven Bratman
"Lost Connections" by Barbara Krasnoff
"People Stuff" by Greg van Eekhout
"What's Sure to Come" by Jeffrey Ford
"Stoddy Awchaw" by Geoffrey H. Goodwin
"Sleeping, Waking, Nightfall" by Amber van Dyk
"Born on the Edge of an Adjective" by Christopher Barzak
Forewarned by my experience with the previous issue of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet I volunteered, like a soldier slightly over-eager to be thrown out of an airplane, to review the latest edition of Kelly Link's fresh and sprightly magazine. Although it was only my second experience with LCRW, I've already come to expect the same things from this journal as I find in Kelly Link's own fiction: humor, originality, some prickles and tingles, and genuine emotion. Without a hint of pretension.
And, as will probably be the case for as long as Link and co-conspirator Gavin J. Grant feel like playing this thankless editorial game, I was not disappointed. Certainly, not every story here is of the highest quality. Brian Conn's "The Mushroom" struck me as a rather weak choice for lead-off hitter. It's not at all badly written, but Conn's fantastic tale of an ugly young boy named Ood, and his love/hate relationship with mushrooms, is rather predictable. It's also – by LCRW standards — kind of long, but doesn't go very far.
By contrast, Steven Bratman's very brief "The Fat Suit," dazzled both in composition and inspiration. Written with wry erudition and a healthy dose of surrealism, "The Fat Suit" recalls Ray Bradbury's masterful "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit" run through a filter composed of two parts Vogue magazine and one part Andre Breton. In it, four painfully thin men ("We sat four across in the back seat of a subcompact car and didn't feel crowded.") ache for the visibility and self-confidence that come with bulk. When they answer an advertisement promising "Fat Suits Fitted" using "the Latest in Hollywood Technology," it seems their prayers are answered. Bratman's story ridicules the fashionable body while simultaneously describing very believable feelings of shame and invisibility.
In the following story, "Lost Connections," Barbara Krasnoff briefly sketches scenes of the narrator's family, viewed long after they have passed into memories and mist with the help of an enigmatic machine. The story is short and explains neither the technology that makes these glimpses of the past possible nor the connection between the scenes. But each scene is packed with emotion, and the ending is provocative and thoughtful.
Another very short story is Greg van Eekhout's "People Stuff," the narrative of an encounter between Sam, coming home with his groceries, and a talking but extremely unfriendly German shepherd. The story is humorous, but at the same time the intelligent and vicious dog ably recalls the childhood terror inspired by large dogs (or am I the only person who never really believed that "man's best friend" line?). "People Stuff" works as comedy and Twilight-Zone like horror, sort of a cross between Mad Magazine and Tales from the Crypt.
Jeffrey Ford's "What's Sure to Come" was, for me, the highlight of the magazine. A beautiful reminiscence about family, childhood, the past, death and the future, it is populated with the most believable characters any author could hope to draw out of six pages. The narrator, a young boy, watches and describes two of his family's significant rituals: grandfather's gambling group, and grandmother's fortune telling. The setting is as well-realized as the characters: one can almost perfectly visualize the people, the places, and the gatherings Ford describes. These sketches hardly need a plot, nor a speculative-fiction element, but they are loosely held-together by the repercussions of the gambling group's use of Grandma Maisie's fortune-telling abilities in the search for a sure bet at the race-track. What follows, though not surprising, is subtle and well-directed.
Geoffrey H. Goodwin's "Stoddy Awchaw" is quite as bizarre as its name. The Stoddy Awchaw of the title is a little wooden spirit who haunts the narrator. The crime for which the narrator is haunted is as bizarre as his punishment and the story, though brief, is a funny, spooky, mean-spirited success.
Amber van Dyk's "Sleeping, Waking, Nightfall" is well-constructed in its ambiguity. A near stream-of-consciousness narrative of a were-girl captured by unscrupulous traders, the story is never specific about time, setting nor many other details of background. As the wicked little caravan proceeds towards a village where the captors anticipate fat purses of loot for displaying their prisoner, the girl narrates her trials in repeating sections organized around the three events of the title. It's an excellent use of a rather difficult structure: stream-of-consciousness can be confusing and, in fact, should be, as it is here. But at the same time van Dyk succeeds in entrapping the reader with a surprisingly nuanced character and a moving narrative.
This issue of LCRW concludes with Christopher Barzak's "Born on the Edge of an Adjective," a story that need not have any genre identification at all, really. Marco's lover Neil has departed, goaded by feelings of emptiness to "find himself" in California. Lacking self-knowledge, Neil is only capable of defining himself through others, and Margaret, the alien woman he meets in California is as much a metaphor for emptiness as she is a character and a plot resolution. The ending of the story is moving; in a sense, what takes place to bring Marco–and Neil–to it is immaterial. Whether Margaret is real, alien, or human, she is a mirror.
Another issue of LCRW gone by, and I am only confirmed in my earlier assessment: this is a magazine worth reading.