"Hot" by Haddayr Copley-Woods
"Tin Cup Heart" by Hannah Bowen
"The Garden, the Moon, the Wall" by Amanda Downum
"Letters from a Teddy Bear on Veterans' Day" by Sarah Monette
"Hot" by Haddayr Copley-Woods is a short piece of fiction. Written in the second person, it addresses a writer who's had writer's block, around whom odd phenomena have been happening. The trouble with such a short piece, of course, is that I can't give away more without spoiling the end.
I am usually not the right audience for second person tales, especially when they're told in present tense, but Copley-Woods did a fine job of capturing and holding my attention throughout. The little details and the prose combine to make this a very satisfying read, even though I remain slightly unconvinced by the link between the theme of fire, which underlies the whole piece, and the actual theme of the story.
"Tin Cup Heart" by Hannah Bowen is a creepy little piece about a man and his lover. The lover keeps needing organs from the man, and the man keeps saying yes. But how far is he willing to go for the sake of love?
Bowen ramps up tension quite effectively over the course of the story. It took me two reads to understand the end, but it's definitely chilling. However, I found the split narrative—which alternates between the past in first person, and the present in third person—annoying, even though the main character in both segments remains the same. It's not so much the alternating tenses I didn't like, as the alternating persons. It seems a narrative gimmick; worse, it creates confusion and distanced me from the storyline and characters.
"The Garden, the Moon, the Wall" by Amanda Downum is a follow-up to a story, "Dogtown," that was published in Strange Horizons, but reads well enough on its own. Sephie works in a library and is haunted by the ghost of her former boyfriend, Caleb. She's also a monster; she needs fresh blood to avoid killing and devouring people.
This is the longest story of the issue, but it flowed very quickly. Sephie is a compelling character, and Downum reprises the device of ghouls and werewolves while firmly making it her own. The short, snappy paragraphs carry this story of grief, loss, and the search for safety to its inevitable end. However, I felt that the ending fell a little short of the rest—that the story stopped just a fraction too soon, leaving its thrust not quite resolved. I can see Downum's reasoning in choosing to end it this way; Sephie's final choice is the right destination for the story, but I think the consequences of that choice are also important and should have been part of the narrative. Nevertheless, this is well worth reading.
"Letters from a Teddy Bear on Veterans' Day" by Sarah Monette tells the story of a young boy who loses his elder brother in the Vietnam War. It alternates between the present, when the narrator is carrying his brother's teddy bear as he walks up to the Wall—an otherworldly place haunted by dead veterans—and the past, recounting what happened in the years between his brother's death and the present.
The timeframe, unlike with "Tin Cup Heart," is very clear (probably because there is no person change), and I found this to be a heartwrenching story from beginning to end. Nothing much happens, but nevertheless, Monette skillfully evokes grief and numbness without sinking into melodrama. The story itself only has the Wall as a fantastical device, but it's a creepy and sad place, encompassing the theme of the story. The narrator rings very real, and the ending had me on the verge of tears. Thoroughly recommended.
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