“On Top of the World,” by Len Kuntz
Appeared in Wigleaf, January 2018
A charming fantasy. I like the tension between the first two lines and what follows. That seems like a dumb obvious thing to say, but it’s true.
“The 45th President of the United States and I Went to a Petting Zoo,” by Grant Gerald Miller
Appeared in (b)OINK, October 13th, 2017
A bizarre and charming fantasy. I like the stilted repetition of “the 45th President” and its refusal to actually say the guy’s name.
“The 45th President slowly mouthed the world animal. Animals, I said. They’re called animals. You’re supposed to pet them.”
Edited to add: It has been confirmed that the president can, in fact, identify several different animals.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
Published in 1962 by Viking Press
160 pages in the Penguin Classics Deluxe paperback
This book feels like the purest and most beautifully executed piece of wish fulfillment I’ve ever read. (The thing that comes closest to it is The Talented Mr. Ripley.) When I say wish fulfillment, I guess I mean that Merricat never has to grow up, never has to learn her lesson. Constance never has to grow up either, and after the brief temptation of adulthood passes, she returns happily (?) and with relief to the safety of Merricat’s little world. They win. They triumph. And the twistedness of their triumph is a pleasure in itself, which is only enhanced by the cruelty of the outside world—it’s as though Merricat’s madness is a reaction to that cruelty (though of course it needs no justification beyond itself) and a taunt to throw back against the taunts of the hostile neighbors.
“Dear Owner of This 1972 Ford Crew Cab Pickup,” by Desirina Boskovich
The author points out in this interview that the protagonist isn’t wholly sympathetic, and that the antagonist deserves more sympathy than she gives him. She quotes a trite but perhaps absolutely true saying: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” And yet how difficult I found it, reading this story, to see anything beyond the protagonist’s suffering and the antagonist’s callousness—how difficult not to want the story to end the way it did, in horror and catharsis and oblivion. Fiction can make us feel invincible, but it can also remind us how weak and corruptible we really are.
I think the story could be comfortably placed in crime rather than horror, but the good thing about calling it horror is that the reader doesn’t know what kind of horror to expect.
“Starter House,” by Jason Palmer
Appeared in the Drabblecast, episode 362, June 14th, 2015
Maybe 4,000 words?—not sure
A slight story, because the family and their complacence and their cruelty are all so repellent. But fun, because their ending feels so well deserved.
“I think pornography is a very rich medium, and I’ve studied it closely and learned quite a lot as a writer from it. Porn charges and narrows the reader’s attention in a swift, no-nonsense way, and it creates an anxious, intimate, and secretive atmosphere that I find very helpful as a way to erase the context around my characters and foreground their feelings, their psychological depths, their tastes. But I’m also always interested in subverting and counteracting porn’s effect, and the sex in my books is never merely hot. It challenges the objectification that is porn’s stock-in-trade by removing the central conceit that people having sex are in a state of supreme relaxation and self-confidence, wherein their worries and individuality are muted and beside the point. It uses hotness as a kind of decoy.”
—Dennis Cooper (x)
Following up on this, a recent installment of Homestuck included something that can only be done in speculative fiction, and I want to savor it by analysis:
Dave grew up with an abusive guardian who died before Dave got the chance to come to terms with his abuse. In this scene, he finds himself face to face with Dirk, an alternate-reality version of his abuser. While Dirk has technically never done anything to Dave, he’s already acquired the behavior patterns that could lead him in the same direction.
For the first time, Dave gets to vent some of his justified anger. Dirk not only looks and feels like Dave’s guardian, he also intuitively understands his other self’s cruelty and feels partly responsible. And because he’s not that other self, Dave can eventually forgive him, learn to trust him, and even ask him for the comfort and affection he never got as a kid.
If Dave had tried to reconcile with his actual abuser to this extent, he would have likely have gotten burned again. But with Dirk, he has a chance of starting over on his own terms. They’re even the same age this time. It’s an amazing scene of catharsis and the best kind of wish fulfillment.
How would a realistic narrative do this? I suppose Dirk’s role could be filled by a twin sibling or a son. Or Dave’s guardian could suffer a traumatic brain injury that makes him effectively a new person. Or the cathartic confrontation could occur in a dream sequence or a hallucination or a story within the story. But these are only approximations of the thing we’re trying to do, a thing that Homestuck offers in its purest form.
Compare the quasi-redemption at the end of “Bullet in the Brain,” which is made possible only by messing with chronology.