This review is an overview of the February and March issues, picking out my favourite stories from the two. In the pieces on which I’ll be focusing here, Cat Rambo tells of siblings with an uneasy relationship, which might or might not involve supernatural forces; Nalo Hopkinson introduces to a girl with a rather extreme love of plants; and Darin Bradley puts a fantastic twist on the lives of US farming families during the Great Depression.
Starting with the February issue, “Close Your Eyes” by Cat Rambo is a story that explores the limitations of stories as a means of describing human experience. Amber and Lewis are sister and brother: he is terminally ill, with a handful of years left to live, if he’s lucky; she is reluctantly looking after him, whilst working on her series of children’s graphic novels; the siblings’ relationship is rather strained. Amber discovers that Lewis is taking shamanism classes in hospital, and is apparently very good at it; a series of strange occurrences leads her to suspect that her brother is seeking to destroy her. Rambo builds tension very effectively when the tale demands it, but overall, the story refuses to settle into a neat shape. “When life started to act like fiction, you expected it to follow fiction’s patterns. If there was no happy ending,” the narration asks, “how would you know when the story was done?” And the answer given is that you wouldn’t—there are two beginnings and two endings, and an unresolved tension over whether anything supernatural is really happening at all.
Also from the February issue (but first published in Claude Lalumière’s and Elise Moser’s 2006 anthology Lust for Life), “A Raggy Dog, a Shaggy Dog” by Nalo Hopkinson is a wonderfully creepy character study. Tammy Griggs is a flower-arranger who likes orchids: she has tattoos of them all over her body, an apartment full of them, and a tendency to water them by setting off the sprinklers (which also leads her to move frequently). Tammy’s first-person narration is addressing someone or something, though exactly who or what is not clear at first. All is gradually revealed, though, as we discover that Tammy is also after a boyfriend, and the bizarre measures she has taken in her search. Hopkinson controls the flow of her story very well, slowly pulling back to uncover a situation that becomes ever stranger and more unsettling.
In the March issue, Darin Bradley’s “The Dust and the Red” is a portrait of two families in the Depression-era US, viewed through a distorting fantastic lens. In the world of Bradley’s story, the health and fortunes of families are bound up in talismanic objects (a wax doll for the Fincher family, say, or a pearl for the family of the protagonist, young Caroline Lindsay), and the social and economic forces at work on those families manifest in much more direct ways. The metaphoric underpinnings of Bradley’s tale are not easily unpacked, and I’m still not sure that I have grasped everything; but there are some strikingly effective scenes, such as when Caroline’s brother Jonah gambles with the Lindsay family’s fortune (as embodied in the pearl), and it literally puts the house in turmoil, rolling over and over on the spot. “The Dust and the Red” is a darkly atmospheric piece that evokes the harshness of its setting, and the effect that has on its characters.
Also in the February and March issues are the stories “Langknech and Tzi-Tzi in the Land of the Mad” by Forrest Aguirre, “The Speaking Bone” by Kat Howard, and “Rats” by Veronica Schanoes; and the poems “House of Shadows” by F.J. Bergmann, “The Witch’s Heart” by Nicole Kornher-Stace, “Quest” by Jessica Wick, and “The King of Cats, the Queen of Wolves,” a collaboration between Kornher-Stace, Mike Allen and Sonya Taaffe.