An Anthology edited by Colleen Anderson and Ursula Pflug.
Exile Editions (2015)
Stories by Chris Kuriata, Joe Davies, Catherine MacLeod, Kate Story, Meagan Whan, Candas Jane Dorsey, Rati Mehrotra, Nathan Adler, Rhonda Eikamp, Robert Runté, Linda, DeMeulemeester, Kevin Cockle, Claude Lalumière, Dominik Parisien, dvsduncan, Christine Daigle, Melissa Yuan-Innes, Shane Simmons, Lisa Carreiro, Karen Abrahamson, Geoffrey W. Cole, Alex C. Renwick, Derek Newman-Stilles.
If I real-time review this book, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.
FUN THINGS FOR AGES 8 to 10 by Chris Kuriata
“YOU MUST PLAY THE TAPE TO THE END!”
An absurdly complicated and potentially bloodthirsty ritual for children to summon a voice with predictions. A crafty start to the book as it gives me the screaming hab-jabs to finish reading this book now I’ve started it…or else.
THE COMPASS by Joe Davies
“He turned to me and said, ‘I should go, shouldn’t I?'”
Well, when reading this, it felt like a long lost classic story that I had just discovered in an old book, but knowing all the time that it has just been written for this new book! With a Truman Capote feel, and more, something intrinsic, iconic. I often hope to find such stories in new books I choose to buy and triangulate in real-time with my own compass, like I have just done with this story, but often I am disappointed. Not this time.
This sensitive story is of a close boyhood friendship, one of whom, the narrator, later transfers to girls and women, the other not. A particular trip all those years ago where the narrator’s father sets the two boys an orienteering task together using the other boy’s compass. It is important to know it is a TOY compass, and we all know what toy compasses are like! This compass is more than just a literary ‘objective correlative’, though. It is an emotional boomerang. And I dare not tell you more for fear of spoiling this truly great story. Utterly poignant.
HIDE AND SEEK by Catherine MacLeod
“Their glances slid past me, seeing only another shade of shadow.”
Another that fills me with a satisfying sense of a story well told, where house guests and house ghosts, for me, are tantalisingly interchangeable. A quality of humility, generosity and love’s unrequitedness, but not without a retributive streak.
This story, like that of the compass, will eventually come round to haunting you. I know that is easy to say, but this story is indeed almost perfect, as well as leaving something invisible behind, long after you have finished reading it, something that will eventually make it wholly perfect, or so I suspect.
SHOW AND TELL by Kate Story
“…although telepathy wasn’t one of her powers that I was aware of.”
A moving blend of the mutually captivating symbiosis of then and now,
firstly, memories then of your past life at the school as a bullied girl, with a symphony of sexual awakenings and quandaries as to which future path to orienteer (with this book’s earlier toy compass?), instinctively riding your thews upon the bedhead, or the boy enticing you into the toilet, or being forced by other girls to drink that toilet’s very own water, or a sapphic kiss, or the inscrutably ugly doll you naively took to one of the weekly ‘show and tells’, the doll with the many expressions including your own crossed eyes, expressions created by cranking the doll’s arm just as the boy may have done for his hand’s own instinctive manoeuvres….
secondly, now, twenty years later, for a dance reunion at the same school and the ‘impossible’ discoveries in one’s old cubby-hole, to the singing of Rod Stewart or Supertramp…
creating a series of emotional ricochets against the backdrop of mixed messages emanating from your doll’s ‘objective correlative’, a “braided déjà vu” of self’s never-too-late expression.
THE DIE by Meagan Whan
“‘It’s complicated.’ / ‘Emptiest response in the English language,’…”
As an instinctive throw of the die, this story sits on the page and is what it is, knowing that’s it’s complicated but simple enough when verities are faced, man-woman cruelties left un-transcended, parallel worlds sorted out to find the throw of the ultimate tontine, a young woman called Elizabeth discovering a 12 sided die when digging the garden planting pansies around the Victorian House, now turned to a house-share (or time share?) of eight bedrooms…
It is what it is. Not complicated at all. A slice of life through the alternating layers of reality, each layer of self trying to find its optimum path, the die like this book’s earlier compass, Elizabeth like the doll in the Kate story.
When Whan became When?
THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE by Candas Jane Dorsey
“Cubbie mixed in a can of fruit cocktail, and put it all in a fancy copper dish she called a mold. Renee loved how the ice made a flat little tinkle against the Jell-O mold, but even more she loved how when the Jell-O was hardened and turned out on the plate, the fruit cocktail pieces floated in an orange sky, a sky that jiggled like Cubbie’s laughing folds…”
I chose that quote because, a day or so ago, I fortuitously reviewed a story (here) with a relentless refrain of ‘gelatin molds’ and their ‘jiggling’, in fact the soul of that story as ‘objective correlative’, almost a continuous nursery rhyme… Here, for me, in Candas’ Food of my People, the jiggling becomes a jigsaw-solving ritual (evocatively described within the banlieu of someone young enough like Renee for nursery rhymes and death-solving spells), like the absurdist predictive ritual in this book’s first story, and the power of another story’s compass and and yet another’s twelve-sided die.
Renee, here, has three differently spelt but similarly sounding names, one French, like her work-injured, possibly dying Dad – and she searches in some impossible cubby-hole as in the explicit CUBBY-hole in Kate’s story, yet, now, in CUBBIE’s house, Cubbie who has cared for Renee while Renee’s Mum worked, Renee’s searching, in that cubby-hole, being for the jigsaw that will solve death’s onset…and then searching for that last piece of the jigsaw’s gestalt, on the floor, or still in the box, after all the edge-pieces have been laboriously framed around the potential middle sections, as I often do with what I have long called my gestalt real-time reviewing…
I could go on, but suffice to say, this is yet another significant work, one that resides here as a potential classic of holistic poignancy, with its jigsaw as a lost toy and potentially healing ‘objective correlative’.
So far, in reading this book, I’ve been genuinely spoilt with riches.
CHAYA AND LOONY-BOY by Rati Mehrotra
“Easier said than done. I ran to the door my grandmother had shut so firmly, and jiggled it.”
In contrast to this book’s earlier doll that sits forgotten in a cubby-hole for twenty years, this doll is one that is more in tune with her child owner’s belief in a doll’s mobility and co-sharing of adventures. This is one such adventure, a raw adventure, succinctly told, but no less haunting for that. In fact it artfully benefits from the deadpan presumptions of fantastical truth, as the girl takes her doll with her to the attic where they are both locked as punishment for a misdeed, then escaping from the attic’s so-called ghost, escaping upward to the township’s roof-connects as they can’t escape downward whence they came. It continues gratuitously deadpan, too, as the doll, having fallen to another roof, is taken by – or voluntarily leaves with – whoever lives next door….
THE GHOST RATTLE by Nathan Adler
“It’s supposed to be creepy;”
In many ways a knowingly stock creepy burial ground story where one of the boys (boys who carry out home-made tattoos on each other) pilfers a baby’s rattle from amongst the other ramshackle tomb-houses and tree-hung mausoleums of this locally reputed-to-be-haunted Indian site where they had dared visit….to the later incantatory tune of a tell-tale heart.
Meanwhile, there are some very good touches about the nature of that rattle, the actual evocative description of the site, the woman of fire who haunts it, her engulfing irises, the wick of the boy’s body, a comparison of the open ductwork etc of the boy’s bedroom and the structure of the site itself, the ‘magnetic midnight’…
… and the indelible nature of the raw tattoos … as if we are all seamed through with an inchoate underbelly of death and retribution, and the tattoos may have been instrumental and the rattle was a mere decoy or, at most, trigger for that power of the naïve skull tattoos – as enscribed by or as print?
THE GARDEN OF OUR DECEIT by Rhonda Eikamp
“I have given you the golden pieces. You will do with them as you will.”
The earlier jigsaw becomes a chess game. Chess as a child’s toy, with a man returned to his childhood home, where the giant chessmen populate the geometry of the garden, and pawns are called peons. I have never read such a chess game before and, for me, the only way to absorb the text is by your mind making a knight’s moves across it. I hesitate to say it yet again, for fear of praise attrition, but this is another classic. Broadly, there is the game itself, as Charles is accompanied by his alien ‘female’ symbiotica companion who, I infer, induces apathy in humans as part of the aliens’ larger plan and, now, his reunion with the girl he once loved, the father he has betrayed, and the battle between such aliens and Charles’ people, a parallel chess game of bluff and counter bluff in itself, with all of this couched in an evocative expression of moods and events that resonates and resonates… Melding, “capture and geometry”, mating in a chess and a sexual sense, a circuitry of permanent drug supply, Charles now become the toy himself in this bigger chess game, the oil needed to get the disused chessmen to work in the ‘toy’ chess game, an intrinsic truth or pattern of the game, and I could go on and on about factors in this story, and still not do proper justice to it. You will do with them as you will. You understand must.
HACKER CHESS by Robert Runté
“When you were a white hat, you had to be prepared for this sort of scenario,…”
From one chess story to another, this second one being based on an inimical interface between computers or people controlling those computers, starting off with Jerry noticing his fridge has switched itself off, leading to an absurdist audit trail akin to that in this book’s first story. The repercussions of not being able to enable an AI patch would be enough to blow your mind.
Jerry was a peon, Catherine was a white queen. I found it intriguing enough, suffering from white coat syndrome as I do, eventually giving me a high reading by osmosis, I guess.
(But what had it to do with lost toys?)
AND THEY ALL LIVED TOGETHER IN A CROOKED LITTLE HOUSE by Linda DeMeulemeester
“All I needed was to find out we were beside some old burial grounds, and I could read a Stephen King novel to see what would happen next.”
This constructively inchoate incantation of a story is a millstone for grinding nursery rhymes, its text not just sown with sections of nursery rhymes but thickly layered with many such, including some I suspected of being brand new nursery rhymes artfully masquerading as old traditional ones. It tells of a married couple moving into a new house in the wilds, a place seemingly idyllic for their needs, but the owner reneges on the deal of selling it to them but only after they had moved in.
I sense the arrival of another baby’s rattle in due course…to match the earlier one? Tell me what you think.
BALERO by Kevin Cockle
“Like the cosmos saying, ‘We can’t give you back your folks, kid, but there’s this.'”
And there’s this, too, as this story, an engaging, poetic collage upon the narrator’s life now, some future post-plague society, I guess, where he works conducting old folk round the park, in the evening a sex worker earning stars as reviews of his prowess, mix of friction versus meditation, ‘fighting and fucking’ versus tenuous memories, brought together by an objective correlative ‘toy’ connected to his Dad, where friction actually becomes meditation, and vice versa. And leaves become clouds. Or crypto currencies.
The weight in the hand, the recurrent sync. Anxiety transcended.
I sense it works because I already feel tractable post-resonance just a few minutes after finishing reading it, as I write this.
LESS THAN KATHERINE by Claude Lalumière
I am afraid I found this curse of the ancient stone dagger and the narrator’s daughter’s ability to stab a number people simultaneously from a great distance unconvincing.
Nor could I see the dagger as a toy.
It may work better for other readers.
GOODBYE IS A MOUTHFUL OF WATER by Dominik Parisien
“Somehow, your grandfather’s startled, disarming laugh found its way into your mouth,…”
A hauntingly poetic intertwining of the past (when you were child) and the present, a tantalising, ultimately irreconcilable, link between your grandfather and the drowned houses he shows you, and the house he drowned on purpose, and his dying when you race towards him in your car almost, I guess, either to destroy that dam by crashing into it or to fulfil his commission for you to perform, I infer, an act of sin-eating. A sense of your touching relationship leapfrogging a generation. Meanwhile, this is a book about lost toys, and the toy in this story is so lost, it is not even mentioned,
Unaccountably, it brought to mind the inscrutable ‘The Houses of the Russians’ by Robert AIckman, and I wondered, should I re-read both stories, whether there would be some preternatural link (however slight) between them – to help explain each to the other.
TREASURE by dvsduncan
“In death, much is lost and much is left behind.”
That seems the perfect rejoinder to the previous story.
And it also seems to be a perfect rejoinder to my own life at the moment, where I recently have found those same old birthday cards stored away in a drawer, but the person who stored those cards has not passed beyond this life but has been simply passed to a place where earthly care can be given more easily. I am not sure which is the sadder, clearing up after a death, or clearing up after a mundane departure from the mundane home to another mundane place which is not yet home but hopefully will be.
This story’s lost toy, the narrator’s boyhood toy, is found by his daughter, after his mother dies. The ability to quickly create a peacock or a dove or an owl and so forth from the metal plates and intricate workings of that amazing toy (like a prodigy quickly snapping a Rubik’s cube into correct order) is reconciling all these factors into place, the blending of the emotions of irretrievable passing and those of merely passing onward while still alive – and the grandmother, here, who has leapfrogged the same generation to the granddaughter (like the grandson-granddad leapfrogging I identified above in the previous story) is a beautiful symbol of the recovery of the magic of life. Or another sin-eating?
OF DANDELIONS AND MAGIC by Christine Daigle
“I dreamed of Patches.”
The ending stirringly makes me think of whether one’s life needs dementia patches as much as computers need virus patches. Or simply strawberry fields forever?
Quite coincidentally, this story NOT ONLY has, incantatorily for the third story in a row, the leapfrogging over a generation (here a granddaughter and her grandmother) so as to rediscover the magic of our childhood on behalf of the in between (here the daughter and mother between) BUT ALSO exactly shares the moving-elsewhere-rather-than-dying pattern of my personally attuned rejoinder paragraphs above of my review regarding the dvsduncan story immediately preceding this one. This resonance pleased me and gave added meaning.
This story’s lost toy is an imaginary companion of the in-between one when she was a child herself, a bunny that came from and then ate back into her dreams with an (I predict) unforgettable gossamer rhapsody of magic, seeming to be a telling ‘objective correlative’ for three factors: the pain of the relationship with the girl’s father, her dissertation, and her own mother’s growing dementia and forthcoming death.
Except we all start with dementia, I guess, when born, like a sort of magic, and regain it when we are old? The triangulation of the three female characters, in this context, is adeptly done.
WHAT NOT TO EXPECT IN TODDLER YEARS by Melissa Yuan-Innes
“I seized the back of his ‘Finding Nemo’ shirt and knotted it in my hand.”
Whilst harkening back to the positive ‘magic’ retrievable from childhood memories or objects in some of the previous stories, this story’s ‘magic’ seems more inimical, albeit In the form of a swelling ball of yellow in a toddler’s hand.
A struggling Mum is incepting her child in a Daycare centre, where there is already another child with the look of his older self already set in his toddler face.
This is a haunting work. I still don’t really know which was the most inimical of the two well-characterised children – but was it because filters can indeed work BOTH ways?
Not only is the regular page break-marker in this book (shown below) appropriate to that question of mine but also it seems unaccountably resonant with the whole concept of the backward and forward effect of toys in one’s life with which this book’s gestalt seems, so far, to deal.
WHEN THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME by Shane Simmons
At first, a delightful and naive tale of two brothers in a poor family sharing the same model train set: their boyish rivalry and the strange effects of the tunnel covering part of the track…
But then events turn decidedly disturbing, not a million miles away from the concept of this book’s previous stories’ leapfrogging of generations, here of those generations of the single self itself.
With an intriguingly oblique philosophy on growing up.
MAKOUR by Lisa Carreiro
“My poor head, about to burst as memories returned.”
Like the overstoked boiler of a steam train? Or ‘choo choo’ as it sometimes called here in this mind-stretching SF story where we are told of tales that were once told of old Earth even when you were a child, this far future world’s choo choo echoing the toy train tunnel in the previous story, where memories are hidden seeming forever until a release valve comes, and memories drive you again as steam drives a train… A steam train that when I was a child was often linked to a dragon steaming…
Also the leapfrogging between generations and between the margins of your own self earlier in this book now becomes a kangaroo court that plummets you into near cyborg slavery on a useless mining job in derelict space, two individuals then leapfrogged back to selfhood from that walking on the ceiling of contorted existence, catapulted into the fairer trials deriving from some communion with their old toys as ‘objective correlatives’….
Choo choo to you you? Life’s makeover.
WITH ONE SHOE by Karen Abrahamson
This is a 14 year old girl missing-person investigation by two policemen that ultimately deals with the sense of being trapped by this world, by the mundane, but that when you look at someone who speaks curtly or literally you suddenly see something more resplendent, or when you see an old fashioned wooden swing in that girl’s garden in a downtrodden area of town, you know somehow that angels can die going both ways (my observation, not necessarily the story’s).
One swing out of two, one sneaker out of two.
There is some escape by doing art. And this story is art, too.
“I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.” – Spinoza
WHEATIESFIELDS IN FALL by Geoffrey W. Cole
I am usually attuned to experimental fiction, and I am not sure if this is experimental or not, but I am afraid I could not manage it. It defeated me.
Others may find it more amenable than I did.
BETWEEN THE BRANCHES OF THE NINE by Alex C. Renwick
“Neither could violate the natural laws of this realm. Only the blades and the gods could do that.”
A rich Wagnerian text interconnecting like The Ring cycle does and like this book does with all its lost toys as twining and branching objects that radiate more than just play.
Like Lalumière’s connective stone dagger, here the lost toy appears to be such a blade, too, but here not only a killing but also fulfilling blade, if such things can be called toys, cutting the ‘you’ from the body’s sheath, a sort of Old Norse ‘IS State’, whereby the two main women characters in this tale are likeable feistily no-love-lost Sapphics (if that is not an anachronistic word in this setting) as well as full of bluff and double bluff (is the triple bluff that the lost toy is not the aforementioned blade but a blue carving with eight legs?), together with a conspiratorial Machiavellianism in vying with each other to obey the gods – just like Eikamp’s game of chess-players and female symbiotica.
I am sure this anthology is one of those rare few that will hang around in my mind as a great one, full of disparate styles and leitmotifs to form a unique gestalt. A Yggdrasil of toys.
(I will now read the afterword by Derek Newman-Stilles having completed my review of the book’s fiction).
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