People keep asking me to recommend short fiction, which can be tough since the vast majority of it is actively terrible or shockingly banal. Good ones are so rare that I only follow other people’s recommendations (and even then find most of them severely lackluster). Do people actually read these things regularly, and if so, why? Going through so much sludge looks like punishment to me.
“Huntswoman” by Merrie Haskell is a Snow White reimagining that does not suck, unlike say Neil Gaiman’s silly vampire tripe. Spare yet excellent writing, and a very unusual take on things that subverts the motif of jealousy between women so often regurgitated in such retellings into quite something else.
He turned to the huntswoman with glittering, glassy eyes. “Did you find her?” he asked the huntswoman. “Did you find my girl?”
“No, sire,” the huntswoman said, and bowed her head. Her daily defeat preyed on her.
The king’s eyes shifted, and he looked both lost and angry. He slammed down the teacup without saying anything. It shattered. He left.
The queen picked up the fragments of china; in her hands they became whole again. The china, coming back together, looked like the small fluttering of a bird before it became a cup once more. The queen looked up from her work, cradling the cup in her hand.
“No matter what anyone else tells you,” the queen said, capturing the huntswoman’s eyes with her own, “remember that you will be best rewarded by me. Just bring me the princess’s heart, and her hands.”
“Fox Bones, Many Uses” by Alex Dally MacFarlane concerns the struggle of a tribe (with what looks like a Central Asian inspiration) against an expansionist empire using fox magic. It reminds me a bit of a similar segment in Laurie Marks’ Fire Logic, though with much different and less tragic results. The subject matter is absolutely feminist and not tackled often, though I felt I couldn’t quite get into Za as a character, but that’s personal mileage. The prose is lovely.
“Many years later, the spirit grew weary of our company and sent us away, and we moved south into the hills where we settled comfortably and developed our own ways of life. Even we Hma are different. Some of us, whose clothes are bright as every flower combined, live in the same hills as many other people, and are probably the most numerous. Some of us, whose clothes are almost fully black and whose cheeks are tattooed with lines as thin as hairs, live in small numbers in hills far to the west. We, the only hill-people to live where snow sometimes falls, are scattered across many hills, always in the north, always hidden.”
She pressed more powder to the baby’s tongue.
I will make you fully Hma, she thought. I will fill you with our stories—then you’ll have to be Hma, and this will work, and you’ll live, and everyone will stop hating you.
Lavie Tidhar’s “304 Adolph Hitler Strasse” is errrr the text speaks for itself. I’ve often found his writing provocative, though of course I’m not Jewish and can’t comment on the specifics in that regard. He’s a bit too dude-centric for my tastes, but this one deserves some attention.
“You disgust me! You sick, perverted old man! You’re nothing but a dirty Jew!”
Through the open door Hanzi saw Hauptabschnittsleiter Himmler crouching naked on the bed, his thin, wrinkled buttocks raised in the air. Above him stood a middle-aged woman dressed in the old uniforms of an S.S. officer, holding a riding crop in her hand. As she spoke she hit the old man hard against his rear, making him scream.
“What are you? I said, what are you, animal?”
“I’m a Jew!” the old man cried. “I’m a dirty Jew!”
I keep reading Laurie J Marks’ “How the Ocean Loved Margie” over and over. It’s the story of a woman who’s gotten artificially inseminated and finds herself called to the sea, where she meets a mysterious, compelling swimmer. I don’t understand why there isn’t more short fiction from her and why all her novels are out of print. A great injustice.
Margie had a lot of practice keeping secrets from people. She had taught high school English in Somerville, Massachusetts for nearly fifteen years without anyone, not even her cappuccino buddies, suspecting that she was a lesbian. When she arranged for a year’s sabbatical no one, not even her mother, knew that she was pregnant by donor insemination. And when she disappeared abruptly shortly after the last day of school, no one except she herself suspected that she had gone mad.
Going mad was a very English-teacher-spinster-Victorian-melodramatic thing to do. If she were going to do it, she should have worn a flowing white nightdress with a tucked bodice and ruffled hem. She should have done her hair up like a Gibson girl, with tendrils wisping fetchingly down upon her neck. Then, if she had run down the rocky beach and flung herself into the cold Atlantic someone might have noticed and pulled her out again. But Margie went mad in a pair of blue jeans nearly white with age and an oversized t-shirt that declared Parkfield, California, to be The Earthquake Capitol of the World. It was very undramatic.