Fantasy Magazine #6

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.
Image"His Wife" by Bruce McAllister
"The Fish Girl" by Beth Adele Long
"Remembering Ophelia" by Alison Campbell-Wise
"The Girl with Blueberry Eyes" by Lisa Mantchev
"Seven Crooked Tinies" by Marly Youmans
"The Impossibility of Crows" by Catherine M. Morrison
"On the Day of My Detonation" by Stephanie Campisi
"The Boulder" by Lucy Kemnitzer
"Soft like a Rabbit" by Andrea Kail

Fantasy Magazine
returns for its sixth issue with a collection of stories from many corners of the fantasy arc.

“His Wife” by Bruce McAllister tells the story of an American man, Giovanni, who returns to the coastal village where he grew up, bringing with him his grown son.  There he finds an old witch from his childhood still living under the castle’s crumbling turret, and he asks for her help—his son, who is thirty-five, has not yet found the woman he would like to marry, and Giovanni is worried he never will.  The witch offers to solve the situation, but in a way the American man did not anticipate.

The opening of this story is rich in memory as Giovanni walks through the changed village and recalls people and places erased by time.  The easy flow of McAllister’s language draws the reader steadily through his character’s recollections and hopes for his son towards the surprising and slightly shocking slant on its expected conclusion.  It ends on a note of optimism, but with a darker undercurrent.  A strong first story. 

Like the first story, “The Fish Girl” by Beth Adele Long is set in a foreign coastal locale in or close to the present day.  Yanina, a teenaged girl, works at the fish fábrica to help her mother and brother scrape together enough money to live by.  Her father visits occasionally to sleep with her mother and take some of their money.  During his latest visit, Yanina goes with him and her mother to the boat parade in honor of San Pedro, where she falls into the water and awakens on an unnatural island with a strange man.

The genre element is slight, especially if you decide that Yanina’s encounter with the man is a dream—something I have not yet determined, and perhaps won’t.  Such distinctions matter little against the simple strength of this story, the growing-up lesson about herself and her life that Yanina learns from the man and the changes she decides to make because of it.  She is a relatable, strong character who suffers but does not give up. 

After two stories set in our world, “Remembering Ophelia” by Alison Campbell-Wise sees a distinct change of scene, finding the Ophelia of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in rebellion against her pre-determined role.  Campbell-Wise’s retelling is a gripping one, with an interesting character in Ophelia.  The conclusion is powerful, the fate of this Ophelia interlaced with lines from Shakespeare’s verses telling of his Ophelia’s death.  Though it might have been a little tighter told in places, this is nonetheless a story well worth reading—one of the issue’s best.

At its heart, “The Girl with Blueberry Eyes” by Lisa Mantchev is the tale of a little girl who seeks acceptance from her bullying classmates.  But this rendition of many a child’s struggle has its own wonderfully unique flavor: Vera Violetta has blueberries for eyes, hands that leave jam-smudges where they touch; her home is her father, a tree, from which her mother plucks fruits to make jam.  While Vera is determined to fit in at school, she must also contend with a strange magician who offers her a wish in return for his lost name. 

I was first impressed by the incredibly fun ideas in this story (my favourite being the apple grown on Vera’s bedside lamp, which like its “tree” is striped red and white), then by its timeless and well-rendered moral wrapped up in a fitting and unobvious conclusion.  A successful piece on more than one level. 

“Seven Crooked Tinies” by Marly Youmans is not one story but seven, connected only by a fascination with the fantastic in its many guises.  All could stand alone, some of them very strongly indeed.  Collected together they make for enjoyable reading. 

They are: a man who creates shapes in dew, a girl and her family fleeing or seeking an indefinable something, a man boxed in by the limits of life, a woman who finds a different life in a strange book, a clay pot’s life, a woman who grows a vampiric tooth, and a man akin with nature’s creations and timescale. 

In every one, Youmans creates a distinctive voice, bringing to life each character as a unique and rounded individual.  Considering the brevity of some of these “tinies,” this is a commendable feat.  My particular favorite is the story of the clay pot, a viewpoint both unexpected and brilliant. 

“The Impossibility of Crows” by Catherine M. Morrison is very dark and surreal.  It begins with a girl, Abigail, who is told by her mother that she cannot cross the train track running by the edge of their small town.  Abigail disobeys her mother and, touching the rails, sees into one of the strange and sinister trains.  Her mother snatches her back before she can be drawn inside.  Then it is revealed that a river runs through the town, separating beauty from truth.  Abigail’s father buys an old slave woman from the other side, so that the woman will stop seeing beauty and see truth.  Abigail’s response to this woman, and later to a clingy girl at school, reveals her to be a far darker character than most young girls in fiction and leads to the story’s conclusion.

There is a tremendous sense of the town’s isolation from any kind of “real world” as we would know it.  And through it is Abigail, who also seems a touch detached from reality—a sense heightened by the switch from third person to first to second to first plural.  Not all of it made sense to me on the first read, and I still feel that the significance of the title in relation to the ending is tantalizingly millimeters beyond my grasp.  This is a story I intend to return to. 

“On the Day of My Detonation” by Stephanie Campisi is a rich, heady piece.  Pistols and dildos, McDonald’s and Angels, and a strange kind of feud—they are all woven together in imagination-thick prose. 

The simple explanation is that the characters are on drugs.  What they see and how they see it reminds me of Johnny Truant’s drug-influenced passages in House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.  Yet, as with the house in Danielewski’s book, there is much more than meets the eye in Campisi’s tale.  What precisely that is, I cannot say—and that is the exquisite pleasure of the piece.  Very, very good, if you like that sort of thing. 

In the penultimate story, “The Boulder” by Lucy Kemnitzer, a mysterious and apparently malicious boulder on an Icelandic farm draws the attention of an archaeologist and a folklorist, who try to uncover the boulder’s history from the farmers in whose property it rests.  While the younger of the two farmers, Ingvar, is able to tell its part in local folklore, the older farmer hints that Ingvar does not know the whole story. 

I have to admit that something about the narrative tone didn’t always work well for me, but I think the problem is more with my preferences than the author’s ability.  The identity of the old man was no surprise, though I could not predict the resolution of the problem.  While this is a good story, with the folklore in particular capturing my interest, I found it not quite up to the very high quality of the others in this issue.

“Soft like a Rabbit” by Andrea Kail tells of Maggie, a young girl who finds that she has the ability to see the “threads” that make up all living things and to fix flaws in them.  But she can’t fix everything, as she learns when her cat catches and severely injures a rabbit.  And then her mother falls ill.

Kail excellently brings to life the thoughts and character of Maggie, imbuing her prose with the very real sense of a young girl.  Carefully, she builds up the suspense towards the story’s ending, which is both unexpected and emotionally powerful.  An excellent piece to finish another commendable issue of Fantasy Magazine.