Three reviews this week:

Fiction

The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee (Shimmer)

May 2014; 5,500 words. A gorgeous tale of love and grief, death and magic. The imagery throughout is so lush and specific, filled with choice details that call to a certain setting: “She touched the paper, dry as the rue she kept hanging over her kitchen counters. It was a special kind of lacewing dryness.” The letters that Peter sends to Elyse offer glimpses at another world, someplace haunting and unfamiliar; Peter’s own distance and loss becomes apparent as the story goes on. The magic of “The Earth and Everything Under” ties closely to the birds that appear in the story and to an unspoken language of grief; so much of this story is quiet, mournful. The budding connection between Elyse and the sheriff offers a bright spot in the story, too. I wish I could know more about the magic in this story, but the fact that it’s so huge and outside the boundaries of the story makes the world feel large and lived-in as well.

First Do No Harm by Jonathan Edelstein (Strange Horizons)

November 2015; 7,600 words. A fascinating story about civilizations, medical ethics, and knowledge. Edelstein develops a rich, multifaceted world with a strong sense of history and with two medical traditions that are at odds with each other. As Mutende’s landlady falls ill with ichiyawafu-fever, Mutende applies his med school knowledge to try to heal her, only to find that his techniques do little to improve her health. However, remedies from the umulaye, or street doctors, seem to do better. The central conflict about research ethics and learning is fascinating; I might not normally be drawn to a story like this that focuses so much on politics, but “First Do No Harm” was so compelling. I felt like I was being dropped into a world that really existed. Fantastic work that speaks to so many topics and yet remains very legible.

The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar (Strange Horizons)

January 2015 (originally August 2014); 4,300 words. I’d attended a round table with Amal El-Mohtar as part of class yesterday, and I decided to read “The Truth About Owls” because I’d heard so much about it but never did get around to reading it. During the round table, I had asked Amal about telling fairytales and folklore in locales other than their origins. In response, Amal also touched on writing from folklore that is hegemonic when you yourself are not part of that hegemony.  Her comments echoed a lot of the tension I’ve felt myself as someone who grew up with hegemonic Western European fairytales and folklore, but who also wants to represent their own heritage.

All that is to say that I really appreciated “The Truth About Owls” because it does both—Anisa gets drawn into Welsh fairytales and folklore and her Lebanese heritage is absolutely inextricable from her character. Although I don’t fully share Anisa’s background or experiences, the melding of these two points creates a story that really resonated with me as a fellow diasporic person. There’s so much emotion and complexity packed into her character. Anisa has been witness to so much conflict and feels guilt and shame about her wishful thinking, which in “The Truth About Owls” is depicted as a power she actually has. Yet even without that power, so often I’ve felt similar emotions about wishful thinking. Beautiful, multilayered story, filled with so much pain but also so much hope. 💗