"The Ichthyomancer Writes His Friend with an Account of the Yeti's Birthday Party" by David J. Schwartz
"Kukla Boogie Moon" by Eliot Fintushel
"The Changeling" by Leslie What
"The Faith of Metal in Ghosts" by Richard Polney
"The Poor Man's Wife" by M. Thomas
"Rowboats, Sacks of Gold" by Tim Pratt
"White Rabbit Triptych" by E.L. Chen
"Salesman" by Philip Brewer
"Legacy" by F. Brett Cox
"Serpents" by Veronica Schanoes
"A Last Taste of Sweetness" by Karina Sumner-Smith
"Pinned" by Hannah Bowen
"Sidhe Tigers" by Sarah Monette
"The Magnificent Dachshund" by Geoffrey Goodwin
"Mama's Special Rice Tin" by K.Z. Perry
"The Meat and the Mushrooms" by Spencer Keralis
Reading this extremely packed edition of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is like eating a 5 lb. box of chocolates: terrific fun, but it can't be good for you. As usual, the editorial dynamic duo, Grant and Link, has put together an assortment of sly, bizarre, funny, and haunting stories by writers both familiar and unfamiliar. What is unusual about LCRW this quarter is the size and production of the journal. Now oversized and with a new, spiffy binding and glossy cover art, LCRW is double the fun for readers (and only $1 more expensive!), and double the trouble for reviewers.
David J. Schwartz's "The Ichthyomancer Writes His Friend with an Account of the Yeti's Birthday Party" is an ideal opening piece for LCRW, with its festive atmosphere, baroque prose, and mysterious premise. Lord knows what an ichthyomancer does, other than attend surprise birthday parties for Yetis and describe them in letters to his friend Xaya, the "master of the mountains." The cast of characters at this birthday party (which takes place in a Thai restaurant) includes the Zulus, the Monkey King, and Baron Samedi, and the evening is just as bizarre as one might imagine. The story is told with a good-natured bonhomie that makes the strange feel perfectly familiar, and in fact endearing.
Eliot Fintushel's "Kukla Boogie Moon" couldn't be a more different story. The premise and prose reminded me very strongly of early Philip K. Dick. With intentionally dated phrases and the lightheartedness of an old sitcom, Fintushel examines the conjunction of identity, religion, teleportation, and. cola. Philip K. Dick would be proud, and fans of the offbeat but traditional will be pleased.
"The Changeling," by Leslie What explores interracial marriage by a clever metaphor. When the white protagonist discovers she is pregnant by her black boyfriend she begins to doubt the strength of their relationship and her ability and desire to mother a child. Steve has the condition vitiligo, which leaves white patches on his skin, giving him the nickname "Spot." The narrator is freckled. Once they discover that their colors are malleable, they find the resolve to carry on.
"The Faith of Metal in Ghosts," by Richard Polney, is a very brief enigma. A family of androids discusses the ghosts that haunt them as their batteries run down. The prose is lovely and the concept haunting, but the story is just too brief to generate as much atmosphere and empathy as it deserves.
M. Thomas's "The Poor Man's Wife," about a marzipan golem made by alchemist Pinoy to act as a companion to the impoverished butcher Abram, is awash with empathy. Told from the point of view of Pinoy's housekeeper Rashi, this tale manages to make every character understandable and sympathetic. When Abram, predictably, turns cold and cruel to his golem-wife Marzi, it is the effect of the act upon Rashi that brings the story to its powerful conclusion.
Despite being a completely different type of story, somehow Tim Pratt's "Rowboats, Sacks of Gold" seems like the perfect piece to come next. The young narrator (who is referred to as Carla later in the story, even though that isn't her name) has strange encounters throughout her life with an unchanging man who steers her towards new experiences. When Carla realizes that she is wasting her opportunities to live and change she takes dramatic action, giving this parable a lovely and satisfying ending.
"White Rabbit Triptych," by E.L. Chen, ponders life in a less serious way, but with a very clever structure. The story has three sections, each one from the point of view of a different character and told in a different tense, according to the protagonist's time sense. The way these three characters – and their varying degrees of promptness or tardiness – come together has drastic results for the entire world. It's a Twilight Zone-like concept, nothing momentous, but enjoyably told.
Philip Brewer's "Salesman" is cut from the same cloth. A dialog between a salesman and a young woman he is chatting up in a bar, this little story describes sales techniques for drugs that alter the personality. The ending is a twist. It's well-executed, but insubstantial.
"Legacy," by F. Brett Cox, is one of the longest stories in the magazine, and also among the most ambiguous. It describes the relationship between two young lovers who still carry the curse of a vindictive old woman cheated in a slave transaction that prevented their grandparents from marrying. The theme of this story seems to be "bad things happen to good people," for the old lady will not let go of her grudge, and torments even the innocent youths. But when it seems they are ready to make a stand, they find their love has not survived the storm. The ending is open to interpretation, but no matter how you look at it, it's unhappy.
"Serpents," by Veronica Schanoes, is a gem. In it, Charlotte takes an Alice-in-Wonderland-like journey to visit her ailing grandmother, enduring trials and adventures while contemplating the mysteries of snakes. The woods and the subway system through which Charlotte journeys are equally surreal and dangerous, but she never loses her quiet, stoic dignity (nor her basket which contains everything of conceivable use). There is no accurate way to explain this story, which is more about the journey than about the conclusion, and features constant transformation and the reworking of elements from many folktales. Mystical and quietly evocative, "Serpents" moved me greatly.
Karina Sumner-Smith's "A Last Taste of Sweetness" is also filled with feeling. The end of the world has been done to death, yet this sad reflection manages to find new words on the topic by visiting the last actions and thoughts of a handful of people preparing for the end with various small rituals.
"Pinned," by Hannah Wolf Bowen, manages to follow the end of the world with an equally devastating story of personal loss. The nameless protagonist lives, quite unhappily, in an urban nightmare of a city, where his girlfriend Sarah is studying to become a vet. He spends his days taking pictures of dead animals, and his nights burning the photographs to free the trapped souls from the city he cannot flee. The abbreviated prose is claustrophobic and dense, like the setting, making this sad landscape feel all too real.
LCRW 13's next entry, "Sidhe Tigers," by Sarah Monette, is another painfully short entry. As a reviewer, I am sometimes grateful for these little rest stops, but as a reader I am almost always disappointed. Monette's prose is good in this examination of childhood nightmares, but, like childhood, the story is too fleeting.
"The Magnificent Dachshund," by Geoffrey H. Goodwin, probably wins the award for most entertaining title. This story, too, revisits the dreams of childhood, wherein the wiener dog of the title visits Tortellina and grants her wishes. Like Tim Pratt, Goodwin explores wasted opportunities, with a sad wisdom and childlike grace. He also comments on the heartbreak of growing up, and leaving behind a childhood of wishes and magic.
K.Z. Perry's "Mama's Special Rice Tin" is a gritty, substantial ghost story, rich with anthropological detail, set in a colonial mining village. Kat is a temporary wife, sold to the miners by her guardian, Mama B. Kat's latest husband, Zuna, has just died, and Mama B. is performing the ritual that will bind his soul to a grain of rice, so that he can receive a proper burial at his home village some day. Perry succeeds in making this alien setting believable, and the characters are poignantly sketched, giving the tale a ghostly power. Kat's plight, her fate, and her growth are all painfully real, and the reader is as desperate as Kat is for her to find a way out.
This double-stuffed issue of LCRW comes to an end, rather disappointingly, with "The Meat and the Mushrooms," by Spencer Keralis. This tale of Clothilde the witch and her brother Bertrand is well-written and filled with charismatic little details about their daily rituals, but the gruesome ending is predictable. I'm not sure why this story was chosen to end the collection, except perhaps so that "gentler readers" could heed the warning at the beginning of the volume and skip this story without inconvenience.
Regardless of the slightly flat note at the end, issue 13 of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, like previous issues, amuses, enthralls, mystifies, and moves me. It's always a wonder to me that Grant and Link can continually bring us such fresh, idiosyncratic talents. No doubt they have a farm, somewhere, where Tim Pratts, K.Z. Perrys, and a Veronica Schanoes or two poke out of the ground? Whatever they sprinkle on their crops sure does work, and if they want to market the goods in larger packages, all power to them. Fans of LCRW should happily shell out the extra dollar for this expanded magazine: there's just more of it to love.