“We Lived in a House” by Cara Spindler
“Moon, Paper, Scissors” by Yoon Ha Lee
“The Pursuit of Artemisia Guile” by Scott Geiger
“Reality Goes On Here More or Less” by Kat Meads
“Three Urban Folk Tales” by Eric Schaller
“The Red Phone” by John Kessel
“Little Apocalypse” by Matthew Kirby
“The Grandson of Heinrich Schliemann” by David Lunde
“Cat Whisker Wound” by Christina Manucy
“The Perfect Pair” by Jenny Ashley
“Gears Grind Down” by Sean Melican
Stories like Eric Gregory’s “You and I in the Year 2012” are exactly why I’m confident that I will always be happy with LCRW. In this humorous and touching tale, with only a trace of genre about it, a young man receives a convincing, prophetic letter from his future self warning him about the forthcoming end of the world and urging him to make the right decisions and get his life sorted out while he still has the chance for a few good years. This story is well-written, with realistic and compelling characters, and a satisfying but unpredictable ending.
The following, more avant garde piece, “We Lived in a House” by Cara Spindler, was not as successful at capturing my attention and emotions. I’m really no Scrooge when it comes to mysterious, metaphorical tales, but this story about a woman out of place, who raises a family in an unrecognizable yet disturbingly familiar world, was just a little too elliptical for my tastes.
On the other hand, “Moon, Paper, Scissors,” by Yoon Ha Lee, while a mere half-page, is a haunting and memorable tale about a traumatized young girl who has survived a fire that killed the rest of her family. Beautifully written and emotionally powerful, this story is probably blocked from tremendous critical acclaim only by its brevity (which, in part, renders the reviewer incapable of saying much about the story without at the same time giving away key elements). I can only urge people to read it and make noise about it.
Scott Geiger’s “The Pursuit of Artemisia Guile” could practically have been written by J.G. Ballard during the period when he began to locate some of the mystery and beauty of Vermillion Sands in the suburbs. But Geiger pursues his own voice and vision in this enjoyable, funny, and surprisingly sexy story about a mysterious graffiti artist and the town she holds, for a time, under the sway of her artistic and flirtatious vandalism. It’s a suburban fantasy that could almost be real—and that makes you wish it were.
“Reality Goes on Here More or Less” by Kat Meads doesn’t quite live up to its delightful, punning title. Although distinguished by several evocative touches and clean, well-crafted prose, this story about the very odd struggle between a couple and their new and unusual fixer-upper home is stranded midway between surreal fantasy and creepy suspense.
The “Three Urban Folk Tales” by Eric Schaller include “The Postman,” “True Love,” and “As Above, So Below.” The tales follow an interesting progression: “The Postman,” about a mailman blocked from his path by construction work, is mundane and seems at first almost pointless. “True Love,” about a woman and the man she thinks is in love with her, whimsically transports the subject and structure of hundreds of fantasy tales into the world of sushi, photocopiers, and girls-nights-out. “As Above, So Below” cleverly connects to both tales and returns the cycle to its fantastical roots by metaphorically recreating the preceding stories, tying together their loose ends, from the point of view of the city’s rats.
“The Red Phone” by John Kessel could almost be another urban folk tale, only told without the language of the childhood bedtime story. This hilarious piece is more of a bedtime story for adults and describes phone sex carried out by two parties through a phone operator and a secretary. When delivering their respective messages, the intermediaries concoct humorous come-ons and scenarios combining smut, business jargon, and gaudy inventiveness, forging their own connection—more real and satisfying than that of the faceless sex partners.
Matthew Kirby’s “Little Apocalypse” is a much more sombre examination of sexuality, beginning with the circumstances of the narrator’s conception and then tracing her childhood very realistically until one grotesque incident. All I can say about this story is that it is odd, creepy, and unsettling, if not completely fathomable.
I almost overlooked David Lunde’s “The Grandson of Heinrich Schliemann,” another half-page story. In a kind of modern fable, Lunde examines finding reality in art (and vice versa) while describing an encounter between a poet and the grandson of the archaeologist who famously located the city of Troy. It’s enigmatic, intelligent, and entertaining, although I found the mysterious, reflexive ending superfluous to the rest of the story.
“Cat Whisker Wound” by Christina Manucy taps a similar vein to “Little Apocalypse.” This story uses very grotesque metaphors to describe adolescent love; a young woman is literally split down the middle when she begins seeing a boy outside of her social circle. And it doesn’t end there. It’s not pleasant reading (although it is well-written), and the ending is ambiguous, but it is very clever.
In “The Perfect Pair,” Jenny Ashley tackles love from the ground up, as it were, through vain, beautiful Lucy’s obsession with shoes. She finds her Mr. Right in the form of the carpenter who comes to build a shrine for her favorite shoes. While not horrific, this story reminded me of Theodore Sturgeon’s grotesquely brilliant “Bianca’s Hands,” with its keen and unsettling observation that, in the fetishist’s eye, one item of clothing or body part stands in for the individual.
Hands are the focus of the magazine’s final story, Sean Melican’s “Gears Grind Down,” in which a simple but mechanically talented country boy is accepted into a city college. Drawn into a world of dark alleys and cobblestones, labyrinthine buildings and prostitutes, Henry struggles to find his calling, learning the ways of the mysterious city and its denizens while thinking of his mother on her farm. He studies and works, but it is from his encounters with a fellow student whom he thinks he loves and his work on the school’s long-broken clock that he learns his real purpose. This thoughtful tale is marked by warm, descriptive, but uncluttered prose; keen empathy and insight into character; and a lovely ending.