Five reviews for week 43:

Fiction

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine)

March 2013; 1,000 words. Such a tiny piece, but it packs such a huge punch. “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” is whimsical at first, with the “If you give a mouse a cookie…” structure underscoring the initial fairytale atmosphere. But then the story veers into painful territory that elaborates a tale of grief in just a few paragraphs. What was at first a flight of fancy becomes instead a heartbreaking coping mechanism. Swirsky works emotions masterfully and builds a dense world and multilayered story in the span of just a thousand words. Fantastic work that leaves a haunting impression.

Said the Princess by Dani Atkinson (Daily Science Fiction)

September 2012; 5,000 words. A wonderful piece of metafiction that comments on the nature of prose while still spinning an engaging story. “Said the Princess” doesn’t quite break the fourth wall, but there’s a similar sensation when the narrator (“the voice”) realizes its sentience. In interacting with the voice, Adrienna and the voice discover the boundaries of third-person limited narration and use that knowledge in a fresh, original way to help Adrienna escape her predicament. The reveal at the end is so clever. I loved this story, and I’m sad that I can’t seem to find more work by Dani Atkinson or even a current online presence. (If anyone can point me to more work by Atkinson, do drop me a line!)

The Silence of the Lambs written by Ted Tally, directed by Jonathan Demme (Orion Pictures)

February 1991; 118 minutes. A classic that I somehow hadn’t seen until now. Clarice is such a great character, and The Silence of the Lambs does a great job of showing how isolated she is in an occupation that is dominated by men. Despite how she is belittled and seen as less competent, Clarice faces Hannibal and discovers Buffalo Bill’s true lair. At the same time, Clarice is allowed to be vulnerable and show her fear—she is visibly tense as Hannibal manipulates her, and as Buffalo Bill pursues her in the dark, Clarice’s gun rattles in her hands as she shakes with terror.

The varied textures of the clutter in Buffalo Bill’s house and the fluttering death’s head moths create an chaotic environment—I can’t help drawing parallels to the decay, moths, and teal palette in Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak, which I reviewed last week. I do have mixed feelings about Buffalo Bill’s performance of being trans and its context in the film—Hannibal is quick to clarify that Buffalo Bill isn’t actually trans, but the fact remains that the image of transfemininity is used to Other Buffalo Bill and create a sense of horror.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil written by Eli Craig & Morgen Jurgenson, directed by Eli Craig (Eden Rock Media et al.)

January 2010; 89 minutes. Recommended by Kat. There’s so much to love about this movie. Not only is it a parody of the classic slasher horror movie, but it goes beyond parody to subvert many of the subgenre’s tropes. What I found the most interesting about Tucker & Dale vs. Evil—beyond the humor in its plot and the great trio of main characters—is that it comments heavily on gender and gender performance. There’s a brief note about performing femininity when Allison insists on digging an outhouse trench with Dale, but the movie is more about the performance of masculinity.

At its core, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is an actually nice guy vs. Nice Guy story. Although Dale physically comes closer to a classic image of masculinity than Chad, his ideals don’t match. He’s permitted to cry and to use nonviolent self-defense methods; his lack of self-confidence centers on his own faults and not Allison’s perceived faults, whereas Chad’s arrogance and hurt hinge on his sense of entitlement. Chad is the wonderfully gross embodiment of anger that stems from white male entitlement, but Dale and Allison embody the opposite—love that stems from mutual support and respect. Both parody and romance, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil was a great watch that I’ll definitely be revisiting.

Cover illustration by Stephen Walter/TAG Fine Arts; cover design by Patrick Knowles
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Cover illustration by Stephen Walter/TAG Fine Arts; cover design by Patrick Knowles

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch (Del Rey)

July 2012; 320 pages. Another great novel in the Rivers of London series. Sergeant Jaget Kumar has to be my favorite new character, and I squeed at how he and Peter bonded over being in the diaspora. I wish Madame Teng and Robert Su had been more three-dimensional, but I do love that Aaronovitch effortlessly makes his novels racially diverse. The worldbuilding continues to expand at a manageable pace; each novel broadens our scope and introduces us to more details about magic.

At times I was annoyed at Peter for being so delicate and self-centered about Leslie’s face, though I do admit that Peter’s reactions were believable. And I was super excited to see that Leslie had a bigger role to play in Whispers Under Ground and hope her character continues to expand in future installments. My favorite part had to be the steampunk pig fart machine; Aaronovitch’s imagination continues to throw fantastic images at the reader. From the art show to the source of the whispers underground, every detail of Aaronovitch’s world feels incredibly vivid. I’ve already started on the next novel and am excited to see how that one goes.