November 2nd, 2017, The Mouse by Anais Nin, Under a Glass Bell, 2014
Blurb: This story seems to take place before the events of The Houseboat as the houseboat in question is still in Paris. However, this could be unconnected and be on its own timeline–though I doubt that. The narrator and owner of the houseboat has a servant who she refers to as “The Mouse,” due to the woman’s clothing, but also her furtive behavior. The Mouse always seems to be frightened, and then it’s revealed that she has been abused in various ways, by former people she has been a servant for. The way it is described sounds very much like PTSD. This is a story about fear and how it can trap you in habits that do not promote health or safety. One thing I find odd is that there is a recycled line that acts as the narrators go-to for The Mouse. Not only does the narrator use it near the middle of the piece, but also as he last line of the story. Due to this, the ending falls a little flat, because the narrator has already come to this conclusion. Readers need some evolution within characters rather than a repeat of a posited idea. (C-)
November 3rd, 2017, Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station by Caroline M. Yoachim, The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy: 2017, originally published on Lightspeed.com, 2016.
Blurb: This allegory about the imperfections and difficulties of the US healthcare system is absolutely fantastic. It’s written as a “choose your own adventure book,” you know, the ones that are like, “if you do X go to page ___ if you do Y go to page ___.” The brilliance of this piece is that it pretends to give you options while continually rerouting you backwards, similar to how much paperwork you must fill out and how difficult it is to get care in the USA if you don’t have insurance. This is my favorite story in this collection thus far, and thus far, this collection has been top notch. (A)
November 4th, 2017, So Sings the Siren by Annie Neugebauer, Apex Magazine, 2017.
Blurb: A gruesome and moving look at the price of art. Also, hopefully, extremely exaggerated. When a little girl and her mother go to see the Siren sing, at first it seems like any other musical performance, but then it’s revealed that a “musician,” extracts the music from this Siren creature by torturing her to death. Some of the seats face the stage while others face the audience so not to see the gruesome acts that elicit the pained screams and sounds from the Siren. It’s disturbing, but very provocative. Wonderful horror story. (B+)
November 5th, 2017, Under a Glass Bell by Anais Nin, Under a Glass Bell, 2014
Blurb: Anais Nin is one of those overlooked authors that didn’t, perhaps, get as much recognition as she should have in her time. However, the collection (not the story) Under a Glass Bell was deemed unpublishable when Nin first wrote these stories, and the piece which this collection is named after, I think is an example of why. It strikes me as a story by which the author sought to convey an idea, rather than construct a piece that pulls on the heart strings of the reader. This is not to say it doesn’t accomplish something. Its an ambient piece, to be sure, avant-garde, and convey a feeling of longing for something, of fear that it will never be fulfilled. It doesn’t, however, build tension or establish believable, understandable characters. Not to sound jaded, but this story seems like one kept alive by academia, not popular demand. (D-)
November 5th, 2017, The Mohican by Anais Nin, Under a Glass Bell, 2014
Blurb: I’ve come to the conclusion that Nin’s stories are not actually stories at all. That is to say, they have very little plot in them, and rarely follow meaningful fictional lines that make a piece fulfilling. In The Mohican, a nebulous picture of a man is painted, which shows him larger than life, though with little structure or intent for a reader to hang a hat on. Readers are left to the whim of the author as the describes this man with vague and often contradictory ways. Then, half way through, it is revealed that this piece is written in the first person, and the narrator is someone that is not omniscient, which casts the narrator’s knowledge of the Mohican into question, as how could anyone know this much about someone else’s inner thoughts. By the end it is revealed that the Mohican is a failed mystic who cannot even read his own horoscope correctly. Then, suddenly all his book are taken away, as the Germans advance, suddenly time stamping this piece in the last paragraph. This piece would have worked much better in a 3rd person omniscient PoV, and by introducing the Mohican’s short comings sooner than the last page, and time stamping this piece with the tension and imminent threat of WWII. (F)
November 5th, 2017, Ragtime by Anais Nin, Under a Glass Bell, 2014
Blurb: Nin is an author who can’t resist adding themselves into their creative pieces. Ragtime starts out about a person who sees beauty in the incomplete. Someone who sees perfection as a dead end. It is rather nice and intriguing, up until the narrator reveals themselves as part of the story. Suddenly the same pitfalls that plague Nin’s other work become apparent, i.e. how would the narrator know all this stuff about this character who loves the things in life that are incomplete if this narrator is not omniscient? Sure, some folks may say, “wait, Alex, you’re being unfair, Nin is avant garde,” but the avant garde only works if a reader is given enough structure to feel as though they are in good hands and not just at the whims of an author who is right for themselves, rather than with a reader in mind. Sadly, Nin’s work often feels (excluding The Mouse) like prose written for the sake of the author rather than the enjoyment of a reader. And for those in the “if you want enjoyment, watch a movie,” camp, no reader wants to be subject to arbitrary whims of an author who sees the audience as secondary, which I feel what Nin has done. It is a sad act of neglect rather than purposeful disdain.
November 8th, 2017, Successor, Usurper, Replacement by Alice Sola Kim, The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017, Originally published on BuzzFeed READER, 2016
Blurb: A fantastic story about cultural success and expectations. The striving for fame in a world that under values art. This story is rich with complex characters and relationships, even though it all takes place in one room. It has that unattainable quality that makes it both easy to read, yet conveys ambiguous and complex ideas and character development. The only thing I felt skeptical of was the magical allegory. I think it could have been a better piece without that. (B)