Because I read Feeling Very Strange, I hesitated to get this similarly themed anthology of
interstitial fiction. Short stories are difficult enough for me to read, though I read enough of them. It’s hard to get into a rhythm like it is with a novel. Each story in an anthology introduces new settings, new characters, and new plots. The context switching eats up time. Also, the amount of tasting of each story varies, whereas with a well done novel I am poring over the text with a pretty constant level of attention.
I’ll get back to that in a moment. The description on the back cover of Interfictions 2 says:
It’s all about breaking rules, ignoring boundaries, cross-pollinating the fields of literature. It’s about working between, across, at, and through the edges and borders of literary genres. It falls between the cracks of other movements, terms, and definitions. These are stories to surprise us — stories showing us that literature hold possibilities we’d never imagined …
The whole point of this is to avoid the familiar. The stories challenged my reading skills, on top of the already substantial difficulty I have with short stories. I knew this ahead of time, but solicitations to review it kept popping up in various places: LibraryThing, the LCRW blog, and finally on author David J. Schwartz’ blog (which I read because I loved his book Superpowers). I succumbed.
I figured I would really like some of the stories and a substantial portion just wouldn’t work for me. I suspect for a large number of people this will be the case. Each story tries to be different, and different in different ways. Unless a person has an innate love for everything experimental, they’ll connect with each story in hugely different ways. I’m glad to say that I liked more than I expected.
For me, the best two stories came early: M. Rickert’s
Beautiful Feast and Will Ludwigsen’s
Remembrance Is Something Like a House. A number of other stories, including those of Carlos Hernandez, Peter M. Ball, Amelia Beamer, Alan DeNiro, and David J. Schwartz, are ones I’d recommend to anyone. I highly doubt my experience will be universal though, even for the two stories I loathed. A fair number of people will enjoy each story because they are differently strange.
The Interstitial Arts Foundation has also published eight additional stories online in what they call
The Annex. I dunno if I’ll get around to reading them, because for some reason I never get around to reading online fiction even though I intend to. If I do, I’ll throw up a separate review for those.
Introduction: On the Pleasures of Not Belongingby Henry Jenkins
- I am not convinced of anything by this overly academic treatise on falling between genre lines. There’s pleasure in not knowing where a story falls? I liked the editorial text in Kessel and Kelly’s Feeling Very Strange better. That volume was very clear that stories that don’t fit categories won’t work for some people, and some of them won’t work for anyone. Slipstream, or interstitial fiction, whether or not they are synonymous terms, both strive to go outside the comfort zone of traditional categories. By definition, it’s uncomfortable. So yes, some of us readers want invention and originality, and take pleasure in that. But seriously, if that’s all a story has going for it, then it’s a failure. I would have liked to see an intro that explored how invention can interact with other story goals, someone’s personal experience of how they interact with between genre fiction, or something. This really just came off as another argument for breaking from tradition cloaked in academic language. I got it. Stop lecturing.
The War Between Heaven and Hell Wallpaperby Jeffrey Ford
- The first story didn’t get this collection off on a good start for me. Ford tells us a dream he had. Yup. It has all the attraction as when someone comes up to you at a party to tell you all about the dream they had last night. I don’t get why people do that. In my experience, dreams are the inbred children of imagination. Definitely memorable, but more so for the person who dreamt them, and for others only because they are strange not because they are interesting. A dream is good for a seed of a story, but it needs to be cultivated by real imagination. Back to the story though. While reading about Ford’s dream about wallpaper (could there be any less interesting subject?), I wished I was at a cocktail party where I could foist the dream-teller off on another unsuspecting party-goer.
The Beautiful Feastby M. Rickert
- But after the failure of the first contribution, the collection continues with this marvelous account of a boy who’s father didn’t return from Viet Nam. A luscious description of a boy trying to catch falling leaves starts it off.
His fingers touch the whisper of leaf but close on air. It doesn’t matter. He spins across the yard, dodging gold bullets. He’s hit! He’s hit! He falls to the ground, rolling leaf, grass, sticks and dirt. In the distance, a dog barks. The boy lies still, arms spread, legs at odd angles. Dead.At first I thought this was a ghost story based on the first few paragraphs. But I’d finished my latté at the coffee shop where I read, so I put the book down and went home. The next day I picked it up again, and re-read from the beginning. And then I wasn’t so sure it was a ghost story. You’ll have to read it to decide for yourself. As with the previous Rickert story I read, this one packs a subtle emotional package. There’s a hole inside this boy that he seeks to fill by finding the father lost in war. I felt that from reading her prose.
Remembrance Is Something Like a Houseby Will Ludwigsen
- I once had a dream of a house that was trying to jump off a cliff. I woke up and wrote that down as a story idea, but never could figure out how to go about it. (This is why I am not a writer of fiction, I can never figure out how to turn any idea into a story.) Now having read Will Ludwigsen’s story told from the point of view of a house, I can stop thinking about ever attempting my story. This is good.
If these walls could talk…Which they can’t in the story. The house has a personality, and misses the family that used to live inside. So it goes on a journey to find them. But it can’t talk. Man, it sounds so bad saying it like that, but it’s really good. Also, imagine if you stumbled onto the house you grew up in, a thousand miles and 70 years away. Just sitting there in the mist on your morning walk in some spot that it just shouldn’t be. Would that be freaky or what?
The Long and Short of Long-Term Memoryby Cecil Castellucci
- This one didn’t pack the punch the previous two stories did for me. But it was still a nice, well-constructed story about the perils of memory. Both of forgetting, as well as remembering. Kind of science fictiony, but not overly so. Includes diagrams.
The Scoreby Alaya Dawn Johnson
- It’s a good story, but I had a hard time really getting into it. It’s a history of a (fictional) prominent activist killed while in custody, told through newspaper stories, web postings, emails, interviews, etc. over the next half a century. At the center is a conspiracy theorist of the internet variety. If you didn’t see such stuff on the internet now, you might buy this character. But since you’re on the internet, you’ve seen wackos like this before.
The Two of Meby Ray Vukcevich
- Fun, though inconsequential, story. According to the note from Vukcevich, the inspiration comes from a drawing by a student in one of his classes where he tried to write a story based on the drawing. Of course, the drawing isn’t included, but it’s pretty obvious what the gist of it must be. Davy is a regular boy, except that someone starts growing out of his shoulder. Over the years, he and his sister grow up together. First, just the head. Then the shoulders and arms and torso and legs. Some day, enough of Renata will grow out that she’ll just pop loose and be able to walk off.
The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeriaby Carlos Hernandez
- I really liked this story, though it squicked me a fair amount. There’s blood. Ten year old boy grows up into dinosaurs, and magic, and then Santeria, which he wants to use to help his father find a new love to replace the mother who died. Alternative history and ghosts play a part as well. Not sure what it was about the kid, but I loved him. Perhaps that he was so earnest.
Shoesby Lavie Tidhar
- Kind of a magical realist story of the south Pacific variety. It didn’t click with me. Something about the characters made them too unreal and too distant for me to really care about them. Basically, it’s an old guy reminiscing about the old days when the white man first came to the islands. Then and now. Not really a before though.
Interviews After the Revolutionby Brian Francis Slattery
- Story told in interviews, natch, of the town of San Marcos during and after a war, when entrepreneurs razed the empty hilltop city center to build a lavish party locale. Again, a competent story, but one that didn’t inspire me.
Count Poniatowski and the Beautiful Chickenby Elizabeth Ziemska
- Almost a standard time travel story, with the protagonist being a Polish American who wants to prevent Poland’s dismembering during World War 2. His method is to go back even further and convince a former ruler of Poland, Count Poniatowski, to be a better ruler in order to strengthen the country. Poniatowski is a little weird though.
Black Dog: A Biographyby Peter M. Ball
- A mysterious black dog only the narrator can see that also breathes fire and eats people, particularly his girlfriends. Is it metaphorical? Who knows? The dog is intimately connected with his shitty love life though. Though I’m starting to see a trend in how to get a story classified as interstitial. Take a regular story. Insert a fantastical element. If the fantasy is treated as real, you’ve got something for the fantasy shelves. If it’s metaphorical, put it on the literary shelves. But… here’s how to get it called interstitial: don’t tell the reader whether it’s real or symbolic. Really liked this story.
Berry Moon: Laments of a Museby Camilla Bruce
- This is the sort of story that writers go ape for. But as a general rule of thumb, stories about the writing process bore the hell out of me. This one did. Perhaps that’s a sign that I’m not a writer at heart. Take the
placewhere a writer’s ideas come from and give it a sort of sentience and personality of its own and then look at how it feels about its associated writer. Too much like my geek friends who feel the need to tell everyone around them all about their latest piece of code.
Morton Goes to the Hospitalby Amelia Beamer
- An absolutely charming story. An old guy and the ghost of his ex-wife, and their relationship with the guy’s Alzheimer’s afflicted former affair. A few fantastic elements in, including the ghosts, thrown in, but none of them are overwhelming. Awesome characters carry this.
After Veronaby William Alexander
- Someone murders Verona, perhaps her sketchy boyfriend. Her co-workers experience the not-knowing how it happened as well as possibly the border between the worlds of the living and the dead. This isn’t really meant to be a play on words, but there’s just little life in this story. It feels like experimental forms and scales, rather than a piece of music. I’m not really sure what was missing about the characters; they just didn’t feel three dimensional to me.
Valentinesby Shira Lipkin
- According to the author’s note, Lipkin used her experience as an epileptic to build this story. The girl in the story has problems with her memory, and it takes her partially out of the real world. She takes notes on everything and files them in an attempt to make sense of reality. Three similar waiters, all with variations on the name Valentine are subjects of her notes. Really good job of imparting a sense of confusion and impermanence. Really identified with her struggles with making sense of the notes in her filing system and a nice connection between the Valentines and when her filing system falls apart.
(*_*?)~~~~(-_-): The Warp and the Woofby Alan DeNiro
- A fairly traditional dystopian science fiction story. It jumps between characters without transition, and leaves some of their stories hanging. I’m not quite sure what qualifies this as interstitial, except perhaps that one character is a writer means everything else may be fiction. But I dunno. The ending confused me. The near future described though has a different feel than other science fiction dystopias I’ve read. Again, I can’t quite put my finger on how it’s different. That it’s different is a good thing; it felt fresh and interesting to me. Maybe it’s just because it’s more normal than anything I’ve read recently.
The Marriageby Nin Andrews
- Short short. Creepy guy has creepy animalistic wife.
Child-Empress of Marsby Theodora Goss
- John Carter of Mars retold from the perspective of the Martians. Or at least that’s what I imagine, as I haven’t yet read any of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom series. But I’m in good company here; Goss admits in the author’s note to having only read the Wikipedia entries on the series. It started off a little obtuse, but the pieces came together in the middle.
L’Ile Closeby Lionel Davoust (translated by Edward Gauvin)
- I don’t know if this is a retelling of the Arthurian legends, a deconstruction of them, or what. One of the categories of story that I rarely enjoy is that of myth and legend. Meta-myth? Not for me.
Afterbirthby Stephanie Shaw
- Another one of those are the dragons real or are they metaphor but we won’t tell you so it’s interstitial stories. Somewhat autobiographical experiences of giving birth. Not for me.
The 121by David J. Schwartz
- An act of terrorism produces a sentient fireball in a dystopian Hollywood, where it makes a living acting in ATF training videos. Because the government likes explosions and they make for great film. The 121 refers to the people killed in the initial blast; they live on inside the fireball. Weird, obviously, but in a way that worked for me.
The editors got each contributor to share a bit about each story and how it fits into interstitiality. This became a bit amusing to me as I progressed through the anthology. Quite a few of them wrote blurbs along the lines of
I don’t know how this is interstitial, but …
In addition to a trend or two I noted in my story comments, something else was kind of apparent. The content seemed to be consistently playing with the boundaries between fantasy and realism, and mostly omitted other genres such as romance, historical fiction, mystery or noir. Granted, the crossover between science fiction and noir isn’t virgin ground. One story gets sorta historical, but it barely touches on the feel of historical fiction. For all I know, authors in other genres may not be interested in writing this sort of thing.
Other blogged reviews:
Hmmm, woulda thought there’d be more reviews already given the blitz of freebies sent out by the publishers and numerous contributors.
Title: Interfictions 2: an anthology of interstitial writing
Editors: Delia Sherman, Christopher Barzak
Cover designer: Stephen H. Segal
Cover artist: Alex Myers
Series: Interfictions; 2
Imprint / publisher: Interstitial Arts Foundation
Length: 302 p.
Publication date: November 2009
The Interstitial Arts Foundation/Small Beer Press provided me with a review copy. Contributor David J. Schwartz had a hand in directing this one my way. In accordance with my policy on review copies, I’ve donated $10.88 (the cost of the book on Amazon) to the Franciscan Hospital for Children.