Chisel and Chime by Alex Irvine is a low-fantasy novella published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’s, Jan/Feb 2020 issue. It is both a cunningly crafted framed story, in which one story is told, bracketed by another–both of which are equally enthralling. In the end, both tie together in a satisfying conclusion of beautiful storytelling.
It’s rare for a piece of fantasy to tackle subjects of artistic beauty. The difficulty is stories about artists that are not writers can devolve into cliche descriptions of their paints, sculptures, etc, etc. While the protagonist of this piece is, indeed, a sculpture, the narrative of the artist at work is broken up into sections that alternate with an action-oriented story. I don’t mean action as in action-movie, but rather, a person moving from place to place, trying to confront their problems and find a place in the world.
The piece centers on two people of vastly different life experiences and throws in the third type of life on their periphery, though it is that peripheral life and the privilege it is provided that sticks the whole story together like with glue. In this way, Chisel and Chime is an exposition on the way the privilege of a few, or in this story’s case, one, dictates the life course of so many. It’s a timely and thought-provoking piece, wonderfully told. It’s definitely one of my favorite novellas I’ve ever read, and I encourage everyone to check it out if they can.