Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing
Edited by: Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss
Genre: Short Stories/Fiction
This book has a history for me. I heard about this anthology when it was first requesting submissions, and happily I obliged, sending off one of my stories that I thought would be a perfect fit. Obviously, it was not selected, but I received a very positive and encouraging rejection letter (no, such things are not oxymorons), which made me want to read this anthology, figure out what exactly they were looking for, so that in the future, should an Interfictions 2 ever be announced, I might write a story that’s a better fit.
And then came the great news: one of my Odyssey classmates, Michael J. DeLuca, sold his first story to this anthology. This sealed my determination to buy it, but as I usually do with books, and anthologies in particular, I let it sit on the shelf.
Why I do this isn’t so much of a mystery. I like short story anthologies and get excited about them, but because of the way I structure my reviews, the reviews themselves are a pain in the ass to write. So what finally prompted me to pick this anthology up and actually read it was the fact that because I had so many anthologies on my shelf, I shoved them on a list and sent it off to to select one for our January/February challenge. It’s not surprising that she chose this one.
As usual, I’ve reviewed/responded to each individual story. Some of those reviews contain spoilers, some don’t. But I will say this for EVERY SINGLE STORY IN THE ANTHOLOGY, so PAY ATTENTION: the writing is DAMN GOOD. There’s not a badly crafted story in the whole piece in terms of style, and each story has beautiful jewels of phrasing here and there, some more than others.
I want to make this clear because I get into these short stories in a way I usually don’t. Normally I talk about whether or not it’s a successful story, whether or not I liked it, and what could’ve made it better (if it’s something that occurred to me). I do that here too, to an extent, but with each story, I tried to figure out what made it interstitial based on the definitions given to me in the introduction. It was a challenging anthology to read in that regard, because I had to put aside quite a few of my expectations for fiction in general, even though some expectations and biases were not so easy to disregard, as you’ll see in some of the reviews.
So in a nutshell: great writing, some spoilers. Sit tight. This is going to be a long ride.
by Heinz Insu Fenkl
In which we truly try and define what exactly “interstitial” fiction really is. Most of the intro, I admit, made my eyes glaze over, but a couple of examples/points stood out to me. The first was the discussion of his own book, which was, at different times, marketed as both fiction and a memoir. The writing style of the piece lent itself to fiction, though the content was more or less memoir. My take from this that such a book/story that can be marketed as both genres honestly is something that is interstitial.
The second thing that caught my eye in terms of definition was that something that is interstitial cannot be duplicated, and if it is, if it creates its own subgenre, then the original work is no longer interstitial. The example of the latter that was given was the Revisionist Fairy Tale, something that’s huge popular and often duplicated these days, but when it first came out, way back in the day, it was original, unique, and interstitial.
I have a little bit of trouble with the idea that if something interstitial is duplicated, if it creates a sub-genre, then it’s no longer interstitial. I think that rubs me the wrong way simply because SF is another genre which is constantly changing. SF that was written before, say, man went into space and learned the truth about what existed on the surfaces of the planet was SF then, but considered science fantasy now, simply because now, we have the knowledge of what’s possible and what’s not. But according to my histories, anything labeled SF is still SF, even if time and technology and science proves the ideas as false or impossible.
And I keep struggling with the idea that a work that is interstitial is something different than a work that is a hybrid. I totally get the idea that interstitial work is meant to be something that’s “in between” genres, but there are so many published works that are THIS and THAT and how they’re labeled truly depends on who’s reading it. I view those as hybrids, yet this intro seems to label such works as interstitial.
So by that definition, I would say the following works I’ve read are interstitial: Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (SF, romance, literary) and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station (SF, fantasy, horror).
But that’s my take, my interpretation. One thing I did gather from the intro is that if anything, interstitial fiction is a living, growing, experimental genre that’s constantly changing, which is what makes it so difficult to pin down. If anything, this anthology attempts to do so, or at least, it attempts to show a variety of the kind of interstitial fiction that’s out there.
“What We Know About the Lost Families of —House”
by Christopher Barzak
I’ve had my eye on Barzak ever since his debut, One for Sorrow, was release. I haven’t bought it yet, but I plan on it. In the meantime, I was tickled to see a story of his in this anthology, as it gives me a taste of his writing.
This story was written in the style of an oral biography, a tactic that’s been around for a while, and most recently (or most popularly, depending on how you look at it), used to fantastic extent in Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant: A Oral Biography of Buster Casey. Barzak’s story isn’t nearly as complicated as that (and how could it, when I’m comparing a short story to a novel), but it certainly reminded me of Palahniuk in structure. And for that matter, it reminds me what I’ve heard about the structure and plot of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Hmmm.
The idea of the structure is to give the fictional story at hand a weight of non-fictional truth. In this case, we have the voice of the townspeople relating the events of —House (the house itself is never named) and what happens to the families who live there, all of whom, it seems, either disappear, commit murder, commit suicide, or completely and totally degrade. The story’s climax comes when —House takes one of the town’s beloved girls, Rose, who claims she knows what the —House wants. The story ends on an ambiguous, slightly incomplete note. I liked the stress of how the ghosts tell their stories, but Rose always listens. Yet, the townspeople never did anything ABOUT the —House. It seems they left it standing, though I have to wonder why if —House was such a threat to potential buyers. Still, I suspect the reasoning has something to do with the ghosts, and that on a second read, I’d glean a new understanding.
by Leslie What
This story threw me for a number of reasons. The first reason being I kept expecting a speculative element to be involved, and there never was. This made me realize that even though this anthology is published by two speculative fiction writers, as well as shelved in the SF/F section, the stories are not meant to be SF/F in any way shape or form. The point of the anthology is, of course, to be interstitial.
So what’s so interstitial about a woman whose boyfriend left her because she’s pregnant, and when she can’t get his attention, she decides to mail herself to him, only he never accepts the package, and she won’t take herself back, and therefore lives the rest of the story in the post office itself? Took me helluva long time to figure THAT out. But the author’s note at the end of the story clarified it for me some, that a post office is the epitome of interstitiality, a place where mail and packages and the people within are always in between destinations. That makes sense, in light of the story. Stella’s ex doesn’t want her or the baby, and she can’t go back to the life she led, so she’s in between, living in the post office, creating a life and a family she didn’t have in the outside world. Weird, but interesting. I think the only thing I couldn’t quite grasp in context of the story was the shadow people, which made sense in that they’re the people who mess up your mail, but that’s about it.
Though I must admit, the concept of a pregnant woman living in a post office because no one wants her reminds me very much of the premise of Billie Lett’s Where the Heart Is, which opens with a pregnant girl living in a Wal-Mart because no one wants her.
But as I said before, it’s not very fair to compare a short story and a novel, is it?
“The Shoes in SHOES’ Window”
by Anna Tambour
This story gave me some difficulty, in that I wanted more of a setting. While it’s clearly fiction, and while it’s clearly set in a rather oppressive, closed-minded society, I wanted a more obvious parallel, like Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. But perhaps its because I didn’t get that parallel, that grounding history, that makes this story interstitial. After all, close-minded and oppressive societies can occur anywhere and everywhere, right? But the simplicity of this one, where the characters are so set in their ways and afraid of anything that might indicate change but in the end, when change does happen, our narrator’s quite excited about it, even though that change simply reinforces the society in which the character’s already live. It’s just expanding their scope of marketing, is all, but not in a way that would make sense to the real-world.
So its simplicity, its fairy-tale-esque quality, strikes me as more silly than profound, but I suspect that’s because I’m too much of a realist to enjoy the story for what it is, simply because the events and absurdity of the story required too much suspension of debelief on my part. And when I say absurd, I don’t say it to bash Tambour’s writing or her ideas—not by a long shot. What’s absurd to me might be profound to another reader, and what’s profound to me might be absurd to another reader. Simple as that.
Though I must admit, perhaps my reaction is based on the fact that once it was revealed that this one-legged man was, essentially to my retail-trained mind, a secret shopper, I thought SHOES was in trouble, not that they’d be chosen to undertake a new enterprise.
But this is most likely a case of my experience and expectations in fiction blinding me to what’s there.
“Pallas at Noon”
by Joy Marchand
This piece reminded me of both Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” (brief review found here) and a short story by a friend of mine from college wrote when she was in grad school (a beautiful piece too, though I don’t know if she ever got it published). The image of a woman as homemaker, woman in marriage, is almost always a profound one, particularly from a feminist viewpoint. “Pallas at Noon” is a story about stripping down the layers of what you have become in adulthood, through marriage, etc., and becoming the person you were always meant to be, particularly the person your childhood self would have embraced. There’s a beauty in that, and the additional element of almost goddess-like intervention in the form of an artist was the perfect medium for this story. And unlike the above stories I mentioned, which have a rather negative view of the woman’s self and her role in the home (not that that’s a bad thing), there is nothing negative about the end of this story. Nothing is resolved, only that Chloe, for this one moment, becomes what she’s meant to be, what she wants to be. In this moment, she isn’t afraid. What comes after, we don’t know. I can’t say I’d want to know, as that’d ruin the beauty of the piece for me.
What makes the story interstitial? Don’t know, really. Maybe it’s simply where Chloe sits in her life, maybe it’s where she’s going. I don’t to say it’s the use of myth and the possible goddess next door, simply because mythology in modern times has definitely become its own subgenre, and I’ve seen writers like Elizabeth Hand and Esther M. Friesner tackle it before. Though, perhaps the twist is in that the goddess of this story isn’t the main character at all, but rather someone the main character has a brief encounter with.
by Jon Singer
This is a really odd piece that I had to wrap twice in order to wrap my head around it. Thankfully, it’s short, so I didn’t mind doing so. At first, I thought perhaps I was being shown by a nameless guide different exhibits in a museum, the glazes being part of a set that told different moments of the same story. But by the end, I suddenly find myself thrust into what appears to be an archeological dig, the final plate being the final moment of the story, and yet, there’s a sense of carelessness to it when the narrator drops the plate and claims that we’ve ruined it all.
So save for the progressive story told on the different glazes, I’m not very grounded. In some ways, I can’t help but wonder if the discovery of artifacts, like these glazes, is being compared to fiction. Once it’s over, it’s over. You can always go back again, but the joy of discovery is gone and ruined. The beginning seems to hint at a joy lessened, in that the narrator is explaining that the first glaze is not how he/she remembered it (which is what made me think of a museum setting).
Still, despite my bafflement, it’s an interesting piece. Abstract, yes, but very visual. The visuals are what grounded me and interested me, the story within a story that progresses one glaze at a time.
by K. Tempest Bradford
Despite the fact I’m quite familiar with K. Tempest Bradford via her various blogs and articles on the internet, I hadn’t read her work until now. I have to say, I was very much looking forward to it, and Bradford certainly didn’t disappoint. The story focuses on Brenna, a woman who’s afraid of heights but longs to literally fly. Between her dreams and a raven’s feather, she’s guided to a truth she’d long forgotten about herself: that she once had a twin brother, but he died in the womb. The story that follows is in many ways a spirit journey, Brenna both trying to realize her dream of flying (and thus forgetting her fear of heights and falling), and also to bring back the brother(s) she’s lost.
What’s interstitial about this piece is the fine line between dreaming and awake. By the end of the story, we’re never truly sure if Brenna is in yet another dreamstate or if her dreams have become her reality, and truth be told, it doesn’t matter. This could be fantasy, it could be magical realism, or it could just be literary fiction. Frankly, it’s all of the three, and yet none too. Interpretation doesn’t matter in a story like this, what matters is the resolution of the ending, the realization of the personal dream, and the ability to overcome fears.
“A Drop of Raspberry”
by Csilla Kleinheincz
translated from the Hungarian by Noémi Szelényi
This story is absolutely fantastic and beautiful. At first, I was a little confused about the nature of Tünde’s two forms, as I thought she was perhaps a creature of the lake, rather than the lake itself, but once I understood that she WAS the lake itself, able to take on a human form, I got along just fine.
I can’t quite pinpoint what’s just so profound about this story. I think part of it’s the relationship between Tünde and Gabó, because you know it’s something that’s hopeless from the start, but both seem to need each other. I love how she’s awakened by his pain, but as his pain lessens, it’s harder for her to hear him, to take human form. There’s an eerie beauty in that. The descriptions of the lake within her was also fascinating, particularly what happens to her in the rain. In many ways, what’s interstitial in this story is the character of Tünde herself, a being between human and lake. And what best describes this, and what also sealed my love for the story, was the last paragraph:
Lakes do not know about death, pain, or love. But inside me, a couple of tear drops and the taste of raspberry are circulating. That much I can feel. That much I know.
That is just gorgeous, no matter how you look at it.
This is where I admit I know the author personally. I admit this because it’s only fair to point out I’m rather biased towards DeLuca’s work. In fact, his story’s the only reason I bought the anthology, so I think I’m entitled to a little bias, thank you very much!
I read an early draft of this at Odyssey 2005. I loved it then, love it even more now. The voice DeLuca uses is wonderfully whimsical and fun. His roots in magical realism certainly shine through in the piece, and the characters are an absolute delight. I also don’t know too many authors who can pull off a story like this, where God is in everything and you are constantly reminded of it, in such a way that God feels magical instead of an obligatory slap upside the head. I was also delighted to see how DeLuca wove the Sorcerer’s story through the piece, and I very much enjoyed the overall humor of it.
Like I said, I’m biased. But even I’ll admit that while at Odyssey, not all of DeLuca’s stories sat well with me, but this one always did, so I’m thrilled to see it published, particularly in this anthology. Interstitial? I still see it as magical realism, but that’s me being too familiar with the piece and not wanting to push back that joy to look at it critically. So sue me.
by Karen Jordan Allen
Oh, now this story is fantastic, delightful to a possibly sick mind (my own). I think it delights me so much because I understand it. On both a scientific level (parallel universes spinning out from a single moment) and a psychological level (just how far anxiety can really go). Despite its non-traditional structure, this story was easy to follow in its own way. The sheer need of the protagonist/narrator to choose the safest universe possible, to want to BE in the universe where certain things didn’t happen, is something I think we can all relate to, no matter what your religious affiliation or lack thereof.
What’s interstitial about it? If it’s the blending of literary fiction with scientific concepts in a way that’s not science fiction, I’ll argue that it’s been done before in both Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe,” though this story is far more attainable. Whereas Zoline’s tale was a commentary on feminism of the time and what it meant to be a woman at that time, this story deals with a far more universal subject of death, anxiety, and wanting to make the right choices, wanting to create the right life for oneself and others. A great read, interstitial or not.
“Burning Beard: The Dreams and Visions of Joseph ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt”
by Rachel Pollack
Crap. This story got “Close Every Door to Me” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat stuck in my head, so I’ll try to come up with a coherent review, even though Donny Osmond is singing.
The interstitiality of this story was pretty obvious. At first, I wasn’t impressed with the fictionalization of a well-known old testament story, because let’s face it, it’s been done. But what’s different about this piece is the fact it doesn’t celebrate religion, nor does it seem to promote it. Most Biblical fiction I’ve read (and admittedly, I’ve read very, very little) serves only to illuminate the original tale rather than provide a new perspective. And provide a new perspective is exactly what Pollack does with this story by creating a Jacob who is terrified of his dreams and visions, particularly of the Burning Beard (aka Moses), and he would do anything to stop what is to come. Joseph is even horrified of God, which I consider a nice touch, because let’s face, gifts of prophecy (particularly in myth) rarely bring the Seer peace (just look at Cassandra).
The modern tone to the language also made the story more accessible, and in that, there’s a sense of interstitiality because the story doesn’t rely on formal, stilted language of the past. And then if you consider the fact that the narrative jumps back and forth between Joseph as a boy and Joseph as an old man (can’t say I was too fond of that, because when it came to the discussion of dreams, I wasn’t sure WHICH Joseph was having them), we’re not exactly grounded, and one could make a case for interstitiality there too.
Good tale. I still have that damn (but gorgeous) song stuck in my head though. :-/
by Veronica Schanoes
Well, I must say I’m quite grateful for the author’s note at the end, because even though she kept poking me in the story asking me if I know this story yet, I didn’t. And even with the clarification of the history of punk and the particular person this story is about, I still don’t know the story. I don’t know punk rock, so that’s just that.
It’s obvious this story is very, very angry. And that anger is hard to handle when the reader doesn’t know the real story. I kept thinking in generalizations, liking the clever, updated revisionist retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but it’s not an updated, revisionist retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It’s meant to bash the fairy-tale because real life glamorizes things that should not be glamorized and ignores the harsh reality of the truth, of the ugly side of life. I get that. And even thinking in generalizations, not equating Lily’s character with a specific person but rather anyone who suffers from a mental disorder and anxiety, I think the harsh contrast between what a fairy tale is and should be and the truth of the matter works well.
No, life isn’t a fairy tale, no matter how much we might want it to be. But for the story’s sake, it started out quite condescending, and ended up just plain angry. That’s a helluva lot of emotion coming out of the narrator/author of the piece (even though I know it’s a sin to do so, after reading the author’s note at the end, I’m not going to sit back and say the narrator and author are not the same person: they are. They so clearly are), and it left me unsettled in a bad way. On one hand, kudos for packing such an emotional punch in the prose, but because of my lack of knowledge, I feel like someone is screaming at me in a foreign language. I can tell that person is angry, and based on certain gestures, I might have a vague clue what that person is angry about, but because I don’t know the language, I simply can’t understand, and yet I feel the person screaming at me somehow wants me to take the blame.
Is that a good or bad thing for a piece of fiction (especially for reprints when the clarifying author’s note may not provide the explanation)? It’s hard to say. No doubt, this story is insightful to those in the know, and for those who aren’t, it’s still clever and telling, and yet, completely unsettling.
I can’t say I like having that feeling after reading something, though, given the nature of the content, I don’t think I’m supposed to like it.
“Climbing Redemption Mountain”
by Mikal Trimm
Wow, what a story. There’s no way, in my mind, that this story could’ve been nearly as powerful had the author not listened to the voice in his head and left it a simple fantasy about some culture’s death rituals. And I think that’s because of the fact that for starters, the Christian religion has many different faces, depending on where you are in the world, even if the basic principles are the same. And the smaller the town, the more outlandish or extreme some Christian practices are is believable, because nothing breeds insularity like a small-town and the religion that drives it. I have no trouble imagining a practice such as this: taking the dead up for the long climb up Redemption Mountain in order for that soul to finally be saved as it wasn’t in life.
There’s something about this tale that reminds me of Faulkner, but without the despair and ass-backwardness of the South. No doubt, the tropes of the Southern Gothic/Southern Literature, are here, engrained in the characters and the road ahead, but this story offers hope, and I daresay that even to someone who doesn’t believe in Christianity, this tale still functions powerfully as myth, because the metaphor is so powerful and universal. And the more familiar you are with the beliefs (in this case, Christianity and the need for redemption) the more powerful the story becomes, because you simply can’t take OUT the Christian/Redemption element without the story falling apart at the seams. The parallel between Ben carrying his father’s body up Redemption Mountain and Christ carrying the cross is, at the risk of using this word way too many times, a powerful one, and it’s one of the many things that gives the story its depth.
It’s fantastic story that’s amazingly well-executed, and it reveals so much about the character and his life in such a short period of story-time. We get everything we need and more to enjoy this story, and I’m still in awe of it. I think it strikes me so powerfully because of my own background and geographical location, and it’s a thing of beauty for a story to touch a gradually growing agnostic in such a moving way. I’m cynical about stories that utilize any form of Christianity as their base, but this one just knocked it out of the park.
by Colin Greenland
This story, as interesting as it is to me, feels incomplete. I think that feeling comes from that fact that the idea of one’s housepet suddenly becoming human is not a new one to me. In fact, I’ve entertained the idea several times, never putting anything to paper, because I wasn’t sure of the story I wanted told. And the idea that the relationship between person and now-human pet would become intimate, my mind’s already gone there. It’s not a surprising conclusion, when you consider the relationship people have with their pets, particularly if said pet is a furry little creature.
And I suppose that my love of urban fantasy that features were-creatures also plays into my perceptions.
It’s not to say this is a bad story. I don’t see at all how it’s interstitial in the slightest, because it’s fantasy. Magical realism in its own way, and feminist in another. A housewife with a working husband usually results in an unsatisfying sexual relationship, at least it does in fiction, though on a more general level, it’s amazing the number of women who feel unsatisfied in bed, be it with their spouses or whomever, so the concept of something new, different, alien, or bestial giving women some kind of satisfaction is, again, not a new one nor surprising.
I think I wanted more out of this story, because it went exactly the way I expected. Once I knew the cat was suddenly human, for whatever reason, I knew Leanne would sleep with him, and once that was accomplished, he’d turn back into a cat. I thought it may be more interesting if, once she dons the mask, she becomes more catlike and Timothy becomes more human, and they switch roles. Or somehow the donning of the mask makes her a cat, and she and Timothy are cats together. That would’ve been a fantastic ending image, Harold coming home to find the bed empty save for two cats, curled up next to each other, and the one is Timothy, and of course, the wife is missing.
That ending would’ve delighted me.
But that’s not what I have, so I’m left to ponder what the story really means. It’d be easy to read it as some kind of sexual fantasy, but there’s more to it than that, particularly for anyone with any feminist background. You see stories, particularly in battle of the sexes SF, where women aren’t complete until they’re kissed by a REAL man (or raped by a REAL man, or have sex with a REAL man). In these stories, it takes a REAL man to right the feminine imbalance of the world. The other way to examine this is from the point of view of woman as other, and that as other, women are viewed, by men, on the same level that men view animals. Therefore, it makes sense that women are “closer” in mind/spirituality/whatever to animals than they are men.
Forgive me for babbling, as I am babbling. I’m trying to make sense of this, and it’s battling against my own already preconceived notions of what I’d do with a story about a woman whose pet turns human and/or suddenly has a more appealing yet impossible stranger in her life. Perhaps I should just stop here, and let the above feminist views in SF speak for themselves in light of this story, and see what becomes of my perspective later. Based on the author’s note, I don’t believe he wrote this with any sort of feminist slant in mind, so ultimately, that might be why this story feels so incomplete to me. All the ingredients are there, but there’s no real conclusion.
by Vandana Singh
I didn’t know what to expect of a story that starts off with a woman who thinks she’s an alien stuck in a human body, but by the end of the tale, Divya’s obsession with SF novels becomes rather poignant indeed. The SF is just a metaphor for the truth about life as we know it. We like to think we’re different from everyone else, but the truth is, we’re all alien in the face of humanity, but so few of us recognize it.
Once I got grounded in the setting of the tale, it read rather smoothly. The alien is such a popular metaphor for woman, as well as a woman’s place in the household, so this story is just one of many that follow in that vein of loneliness. Funny–this is the third anthology that focuses on the-woman-at-home finding herself in some form or fashion. In that case of this protagonist, it’s the death of an old man that changes her entire life, as well as that of her family. The gift that’s bestowed from her was wholly unexpected, but such the right touch. The ability to ascertain people’s needs before they need them, to help assuage another’s hunger. In many ways, Divya is doing penance for that one moment during the party, but I don’t read this gift as a curse. It’s an awakening, a story about social and personal responsibility, and a profound one at that.
“A Map of Everywhere”
by Matthew Cheney
Truly, this is a tale about a man’s journey to find himself, though I didn’t expect that from the start. It seems one event simply led to another, and the repeated instruction of finding a shovel to dig and later for Alfred to literally dig to China I thought was going to become more important to the story than it was. Oh, sure, these plastic-wrapped people–a visual repeated in the description of Zachary’s brother, a parallel I pondered over–offered Alfred a kind of choice, and that choice led him to Zachary, who turned out to be the love of Alfred’s life. A nice surprise, there. It’s not often I find these kind of romances–not to be confused with romance as a genre–in the fiction or short fiction I read, and when I do, I don’t think I’ve ever found it penned by a man.
But the relationship isn’t quite the point. The point–the “map of everywhere” is really a metaphor for a lack of direction. The characters don’t need to know where they’re going, they simply go and enjoy whatever comes their way, and in some ways, the story is an imitative fallacy. Like the characters’ wanderings, the tale goes everywhere, yet without any real direction. One things there’s direction (digging to China, plastic-wrapped people) but I think that direction only served as a compass rose for Alfred to find Zachery, and from there, the story unraveled.
That sounds like a horrible criticism, and I don’t mean it to be. Yes, the story was puzzling to me, but as “Rats” so clearly stated, life isn’t a fairy tale. It’s not a story, it’s not a movie. It just is. Stuff that seems important turns out not to be, and we don’t have the indicators warning us of future big events. This story seems to hold that same philosophy as well, except on a much calmer, quieter level.
by Léa Sihol
translated from the French by Sarah Smith
There is no question about the interstitiality of this story. All you have to do is READ IT, and it pretty much explains what makes it interstitial. The philosophies recited in this tale encompass the idea of interstitiality, and unfortunately, my grasp on philosophy, let alone Buddhism, is such that I found this tale wildly out of my reach. That’s interesting, because when I compare it to the more Christian-based tales in the anthology, I feel this story’s doing the same thing the others are, only I lack the background and knowledge to understand it and appreciate it as fully as I could the others.
Not to say there’s not some cool stuff in the story I didn’t appreciate. The prophecy of Dionysus, Dionysus himself for that matter, and the dancing warriors all captured my attention and fascination. But I zoned out during the recitation, and kept putting the book down. And the funny thing is there’s a part of me that wanted this story to somehow embrace metaphor in the same way that “Climbing Redemption Mountain” did, but this is an entirely different philosophy separate from Western thinking. “Emblemata” might very well do the exact same thing from that Eastern, Buddhist perspective, and I simply don’t know enough to see that. Which is sad, because what precious little I do know about Buddhism resonates in me and makes me want to know more, so maybe this story is a sign I need to get cracking.
On a random note, this story reads like something I can imagine Michael J. DeLuca writing. I’ve read enough of his work to recognize the similarities, and yeah. If this story had had his name on it, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
“When It Rains, You’d Better Get Out of Ulga”
by Adrián Ferrero
translated from the Spanish by Edo Mor
I remember hearing about this story because of its similarity to the DeLuca piece. I can certainly see it, as well as the similar influences behind both stories, but the stories themselves strike me as remarkably different. The tale here involves the listening to water, and water itself, to my own understanding, is something interstitial. Always moving from place to place, always changing. The whole notion that you’ll never step in the same river twice, that sort of thing.
The story itself though didn’t resonate with me. It toyed a little with chaos theory at the beginning, about how one motion at one place and time can effect another in another place and time, but then the author turns the notion of time on its head, like water itself, so what you thought was the future is really the past, and what you thought was the past is really the future, or something like that.
So perhaps the beauty in this tale is the water and idea of listening to it. Far beyond the rather simplistic notion of simply listening to the lovely sound of a trickling stream or the waves of the ocean, these waters prophecy. The idea that a land most made of up water can be flooded (bringing to my mind images of Noah and his ark) is an epic one, and a rather difficult one to wrap my head around.
“Queen of the Butterfly Kingdom”
by Holly Phillips
This story started out trying to annoy me. If there’s one thing that’s overdone in fiction, it’s writers writing about writers. With a sigh I settled in for whatever this writer-narrator would try to tell me that I didn’t already know from my own experience, and much to my delight, this story had little to with craft and more about the conflict of living in and between two worlds: that of your reality and that of your imagination. What further chilled me in this tale was how the narrator’s reality so reflected that of her missing boyfriend. No, she obviously wasn’t physically tortured and tormented, but she locked herself in a psychological prison, and the rainbird was right, she’s simply an afterthought in what is really Ryan’s story. It makes me wonder about the future of this couple, though that obviously isn’t the point of the tale. The narrator is tempted three times: twice by her fictive reality and once by Alain, whose intentions didn’t seem quite so innocent and friendly. It’s almost as if the story is pushing the narrator to the reality she has with Ryan, and that THAT specific reality is the right one. But in truth, for a writer, is there ever a REAL reality, one that’s more important than the other? I’d say not, and I think–and I may be reading too much into this–the author would agree.
“A Dirge for Prester John”
by Catherynne M. Valente
Ah, Valente! Despite the fact I have now read three of her novels, and what lovely novels they are, I admit I didn’t know what to expect from her short fiction, as I haven’t read any. Yet, I know I can trust her to write beautiful, rich prose, and I know I can trust her not to shy away from fascinating imagery, as well feminist theme. So I found myself quickly comfortable in this tale of a mythical land between lands, the man who finds himself stuck in it–who first views it as a place to be converted but which soon converts him–and the creature who comes to love him, despite his flaws.
The feminism of this piece rings loud and clear. In both life and fiction, man has had difficulty coming to terms with the Other, the Alien. Usually such confrontations are meant with destruction or conversion, the latter was what Prester John tried, but it’s not often (though not unheard of) that man breaks down and embraces the other, so to see this, albeit from a non-linear narrative structure, was fascinating, and it’s the structure that makes this piece worth reading again (aside from the writing, of course) because that’s where you find more and more delicious details to add to the understanding of the story as a whole.
It’s becoming harder and harder for me to criticize Valente’s work. I internalize it so much, and so much of what I get out of her fiction is intuitive, not something I can easily articulate or discuss. She’s going to have to write something COMPLETELY nonsensical before I turn an evil critical eye on her. Maybe she has, and I haven’t read it yet, but I’m not worried. So far, her work is gold.
The afterword was an excellent way to finish off the anthology. It gave me a little distance from the stories, and it was fantastic to see Sherman’s and Goss’s process in selecting these stories and discussing their definitions of interstitial fiction. In some regards, it made me a little paranoid about my own interpretation of the pieces and the interstitiality of them; however, this anthology is rare in that not only did we get the author’s POV at the end of each story, but we also got the editor’s breakdown in the afterword. Most stories don’t have that kind of reinforcement when they go out into the real world, and I suspect when any of these particular stories are reprinted in other anthologies or magazines, they’ll be similarly naked. Interpretation will be left to the reader, for good or ill.
One thing about reading this anthology, particularly the afterword, is that I have a better idea of what interstitial fiction CAN be, and why my work almost made it but didn’t. It gives me hope that one day I might write something that could pass the test and get published in an anthology like this, so here’s hoping for an Interfictions 2 (so long as the deadline long past my graduation date and I can actually WORK on a short story).
After all is said and done, finishing this anthology is like finishing a damn good, filling meal. I not left hungry for more, and I’m not so full I want to explode. Each story in itself was a fun, intellectual yet artistic challenge that encouraged me to brush aside expectations and look a little deeper than I normally do. As a result, I think I learned a lot about these stories and about interstitial fiction in general. It’s not about genre and it’s not simply about blending genres. To me, it’s about being in between genres, in between places, in between lifestyles, race, sexuality, etc. It’s about challenging the borders, expanding them, busting them down. It’s experimentation, but not at the expense of the story or the reader. It’s not experimentation solely for experimentation’s sake, at least, not if you look at each piece from an interstitial point of view.
This anthology is something that I would recommend to only a select kind of reader. For starters, readership of this anthology should NOT be limited to those readers of speculative fiction. Any reader of any kind of fiction, particularly the literary movement, will find some serious value in the stories presented in this anthology. My only qualifier, save for a natural love of language, is that the reader have an imagination, the reader not be so determined to take things at face value. If you can’t think in metaphors, and if you don’t allow every aspect of fiction (whether it has genre elements or not) to embody those metaphors, you may have trouble reading this anthology.
Or maybe not. It’s a fantastic read, and if you think you might be interested at all, I say give it a shot. As for stats, well, this is going to be different than usual. Out of 19 stories, I absolutely fell in love and awe with 4 of them: Csilla Kleinheincz’s, Karen Jordan Allen’s, Mikal Trimm’s, and Vandana Singh’s. I could add Michael J. DeLuca’s and make it five, but as you well all know, I’m very biased when it comes to DeLuca’s work.
But the rest of the stories? Were great. Damn good. And if I had to be PICKY, only a couple REALLY didn’t work for me, but they were by no means “bad” stories.
And for the final stat, 11/19 stories were penned by women, but in an anthology such as this, that’s really no surprise.
Next up: Apricot Brandy by Lynn Cesar