"In Exile" by Matthew Cheney
"Saint Louisa of the Wild Children: an Annotated Hagiography" by Ian Watson
"Cemetery Seven" by Charles Saplak
"Misha and the Months" by Erzebet YellowBoy
"Of the Driving Away of a Certain Water Monster by the Virtue of the Prayers of the Holy Man or What Really Happened at Loch Ness in the Summer of 565 A.D." by Bud Webster
"The Last Romantic" by Richard Parks
Matthew Cheney’s “In Exile” also seeks to be both lyrical and sensuousness, but this story is far more successful. The eponymous exile, Amimone, tells her story through a tapestry of present experiences, flashbacks, and unfinished letters. She writes about the aftermath of war, her husband’s homecoming, and his ultimate degradation. The logic of the author’s convoluted storyline becomes clear in the end, where the climactic confrontation between Amimone, her husband, and her lover long ago is followed by Amimone’s present day sense of acceptance of her own story. Refreshingly, there is no epiphany here, only a maturation, a coming to terms. Although I enjoyed this story, I wish Cheney had chosen a simpler, more direct way of telling it.
MYTHIC‘s third story, Ian Watson’s “Saint Louisa of the Wild Children: an Annotated Hagiography,” delivers on its title. Louisa is mother to two outrageously hyperactive children. One day, she jokes to her friend Barbara that her gravestone should read, “She Was Torn Apart by Wild Children.” When Louisa dies of a stroke soon afterwards, Barbara complies. Two centuries later, a priest finds protection from a storm beneath Louisa’s gravestone, then pledges to work towards securing sainthood for Louisa. What follows is the titular hagiography, replete with footnotes detailing the case for Louisa’s sainthood. The collapse of civilization and the passage of time have mangled our understanding of 21st century history, providing Watson some opportunity for humor, particularly in the footnotes. Although he gives us several nice touches, and the story’s idea has merit, much of the hagiography felt like an overly strained joke.
“Cemetery Seven” by Charles Saplak is one of the best stories I’ve read during my time as a reviewer for Tangent—one of the best stories I’ve read, ever. The rape of a deaf mute girl in a 1930s West Virginia company town leads to an alliance between the town’s priest, sheriff, doctor, and the doctor’s son (who narrates the tale). Because the perpetrator is too powerful to touch, these four must appeal to a primordial force to get justice. “Cemetery Seven” is by turns mesmerizing, evocative, and poignant. Its ending suggests that our world has produced horrors an ancient, avenging spirit cannot rectify, yet there is inestimable value in securing justice for even one victim.
“Misha and the Months” by Erzebet YellowBoy tells the fable of Misha, a bored and plain girl with nothing to occupy her time but her embroidery, her wicked-tempered sister-by-marriage, Marta, and her unpleasant mother. Venturing out into the forest in the dead of winter, Marta and Misha each meet with personifications of the months of the year, but the outcome of these meetings differs greatly for the two girls. Marta is unpleasant and demanding, Misha polite and helpful. The fruits of their encounters follow moralistically from each girl’s behavior towards these supernatural beings. Superficially, this story is a literary version of the Goofus and Gallant comic, but there’s more here than meets the eye. YellowBoy’s fable suggests that just as we make our own prisons, we also retain the keys to set ourselves free.
Bud Webster’s story, “Of the Driving Away of a Certain Water Monster by the Virtue of the Prayers of the Holy Man or What Really Happened at Loch Ness in the Summer of 565 A.D.,” is a brief satire of historical treatises. Webster’s title tells you everything you need to know about the plot, such as it is; the humor derives from the comparison of different reports of the event from original sources. It’s a similar idea to Ian Watson’s story in this collection, but Webster’s humor is somewhat more on-target.
Richard Parks’s “The Last Romantic” features the monster as sympathetic protagonist, reminiscent of John Gardner’s Grendel. A human-turned-dragon guards a sleeping princess and waits for the arrival of the conquering hero. This story begins with a great hook (“Dragons make mistakes”) and has the reader smiling by the end of the first page. It is an interesting and touching treatment of an old, old myth.