“Candy Girl” by Chikodili Emelumadu
(Published: November 2014) Apex Magazine
This story is a scream. Whether that scream is “funny” or “horrifying” is difficult to say. Regardless, “Candy Girl” effortlessly balances magical antics and post-colonial entitlement.
Muna is an Igbo woman who has recently married. After being cut by an umbrella, however, she and her cousin discover that she’s begun to turn into a life-sized chocolate woman. Muna’s ex-boyfriend, a white man named Paul, is horrified at her predicament, but only because he meant to cast a love spell on her rather than turn her into candy. But the act of treating her like a prize to be won, a cultural artifact rather than an individual, has made her into the thing he loves best rather than the person he lusts after.
With its humor, this story comes off as sweet as its heroine. Underneath a “cute” idea and a tightly structured plot, though, is a sharp indictment of privilege. Paul is an uncomfortable portrait of people who fetishize cultures without any thought to the comfort of the people within them. He’s too secure in his worldview to understand how his pursuit of Muna has harmed her, whatever the outcome.
“Mothers” by Carmen Maria Machado (Published: November 2014) Interfictions Online
Last month, I read Machado’s story for Granta Magazine, “The Husband Stitch.” The style was fluid and the narrative devastating. A nameless woman in an unspecificed time period filters an otherwise conventional marriage — a lustful courtship, pregnancy, and sad betrayal — through ghost stories and old wives’ tales.
Machado’s story for Interfictions, “Mothers,” feels like a further exploration of these themes. Again, the prose is tight and gorgeous, but here, the marriage in question is the tumultuous relationship our main character has with her aptly-named girlfriend, Bad.
Bad shows up at the narrator’s home with a baby, claiming it belongs to both of them. The narrator is unsure how to argue this. Instead, she parses out her memories with the naiveté of a soft-headed Pollyanna, trying to piece together how the two of them could create a baby much less how they could be a functional couple. This opens up the idea that the child may, indeed, be something more sinister. Wherever it comes from, the baby becomes a catalyst for the main character to explore her own decisions.
I enjoy Interfictions because of its interest in the space between what is considered “literary” and “genre.” Their fiction is less concerned with why something takes place than presenting what has happened and what it means to their main characters. An excellent example of this is Debbie Urbanski’s “Touch,” another piece from the November issue, where the main character, Pearl, is trapped in a free love utopia without the enthusiasm for free love. The specific details of how her society developed the way it did are less central to the plot than how she reacts to the situation presented in the moment. Pearl and the main character of “Mothers” function in worlds where explanations hide behind curtains that are never lifted. They can only do the best with the circumstances offered to them.
“If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” By Maria Dahvana Headley (Published: November 2014) Uncanny Magazine
I worry that between this month’s recommendation and last, this column has become Headley-heavy. However, since reading the playful Marx brother autobiography, Harpo Speaks, at a tender age, I’ve loved fiction that can capture old, Hollywood-style glamour in all its marvelous seediness.
Maria Dahvana Headley nails that tone with ease. Here, a young journalist explores Jungleland, a sort of retirement community for talking animal actors. Except, of course, the gates are padlocked.
Our main character is after an interview with the roaring MGM lion, Leo. He’s not entirely prepared for what he finds, though, certainly not when he speaks to Mabel Stark, “The Greatest of All Lady Trainers in History” and a former stand-in for Mae West. The character and her conclusions about the nature of Jungleland are fascinating. In a staggering reveal, according to Headley’s interview in the issue, Mabel Stark was a real eccentric, custom white leather cat training suit and all.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Everything about this story lives and breathes, even the warm ending. Like my favorite stories about certain parts of California, the beauty of Hollywood shines through the tackiness.
In its maiden issue, Uncanny Magazine has chosen a line-up that will be tough to follow with stories like Ken Liu’s melancholy meditation on aging, “Presence,” and Christopher Barzak’s delightful and firmly-YA, “The Boy Who Grew Up,” where a teenager shucks his disbelief in Peter Pan in favor of following the strange boy into his fairy tale world. I look forward to more issues to see how the tone of the publication develops and where it goes from here.
“A Kiss with Teeth” by Max Gladstone (Published: October 28, 2014) Tor.com
A Halloween story that has stuck in mind all month. Here, a vampire desperately tries to fit into the role of husband and father in a mortal marriage in a very mundane world. It’s endearing to watch Vlad (yes, Vlad) pretend he’s flawed, human, and dependent on breathing when he very much isn’t.
“He’s walked the halls with steps heavy as a human’s, squeaking the soles of his oxblood shoes against the tiles every few steps — a trick he learned a year back and thinks lends him an authentic air.”
His pantomime is a little sad. It speaks of genuine alienation even though he gets along wonderfully with his human wife, Sarah, who knows exactly the nature of the man she married. In so many ways, Vlad’s far too old and too wise to know he will ever comfortably fit into the role he’s cultivated for himself. Unfortunately, the identity he’s meticulously created threatens to disappear all together when he considers giving into bloodlust. The comic part of the story seems to be that Vlad has entered a sort of midlife crisis, but the less than hilarious core is that there’s so much he’s in danger of losing.
“A Kiss With Teeth” is an excellent after-the-happily-ever-after story and a humane look at what one sacrifices for their loved ones. Of course, this involves monster that has so saturated the fiction market, it’s difficult to find stories that cover new ground. Still, Gladstone manages to reframe the vampire in a way that’s approachable without shortchanging the creature’s otherworldliness.
Gillian Daniels is a writer of prose, poetry, and criticism. After attending the Clarion Science Writing Workshop in 2011, her poems and fiction have been published in Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, Flash Fiction Online, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine among others. Her reviews are available at The New England Theatre Geek blog and other venues. She is a transplant from Northeast Ohio and is highly suspicious of her home in the New World, i.e. Boston.