ClosetTown

A review of James K. Moran’s Town & Train (Lethe Press, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Town & Train courtesy of James K. Moran

Cover photo of Town & Train courtesy of James K. Moran

Small towns hold secrets. Because people in small towns tend to have the potential to know everything about their neighbours, secrecy is a big issue in small town life and people in small towns guard their secrets carefully. Small towns are often places of conformity, where being in any way outside the ‘normal’ is seen as a threat, a danger, and a challenge to the status quo.

James K. Moran’s Town & Train explores the rising tide of secrets in small towns and the notion that dirty laundry always eventually gets aired. Town & Train is shaped by an aesthetic of longing, a compounding of desires: the desire to leave the small town of Brandon, Ontario, for better opportunities, the desire for a sense of contact with others, a connection, the desire to keep secrets about the types of connections one is making, the desire to just change something, and the competing desire to just keep things the same and resist changes seen to be dangerous.

Moran brings a train into this small town, a train that offers the promise of new horizons, new changes, and all of the various escapes that one could desire. The conductor of the train offers tickets to dreams, but the only problem is that these dreams too easily become nightmares. Trains represent connections, the linkages between communities across the country, but this train resists connections, much like the small town of Brandon. It comes up from the subconscious to haunt the community with its darkest secrets, all that is suppressed and hidden.

Moran unites the fear of discovery with LGBTQ2 populations in Brandon, those who are at threat of losing their jobs, their friends, their family, and all of their connections if they end up coming out of the closet and acknowledging their desire. Through the train, Moran creates a parallel uniting fear and desire, which shape queer lives in small towns.

To discover more about the work of James K. Moran, visit http://jameskmoran.blogspot.ca/

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 31: An Interview with Marie Bilodeau About Nigh

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interview the wonderful Marie Bilodeau about her new series Nigh, a series about the Fairiepocalpse. In our conversation, Marie and I discuss the power of myths and legends about fairies, the relationship between the natural world and human occupation, the power of unsettling norms and expectations, and the nature of apocalyptic narratives. Marie recognises the magic of the apocalyptic and the idea of The End as a place of speculation.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

You Are What You Eat

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s “Slow Cold Chick” in Northern Frights 5 (Mosaic Press, 1999)
By Derek Newman-Stille

We are shaped by what we eat, by what we consume and Nalo Hopkinson’s “Slow Cold Chick” is an examination of the relationship between food, identity, and selfhood. Food is transformative. When Blaise finds rotting eggs and rotting hot sauce in her fridge and throws them out, but rotting is a process of transformation itself and the interaction of rotten egg and hot sauce breathes new life into the rotting fetus. A cockatrice is formed, with blazing eyes and incredible hunger. Like the hot sauce, the cockatrice is all fire – anger, heat and desire.

The cockatrice needs to eat and whenever it consumes something, it takes on the characteristics of its food, altering and changing to incorporate elements of its food into itself. Blaise also discovers that food shapes her neighbours, that the woman next door who reminds her of prehistoric Venus figurines eats flower petals and her stony companion eats raw earth, both of them taking on qualities of their chosen food.

Food can remind us of home and it can connect us to the landscape by providing us with nourishment from the locales where we collect it. Blaise, like her neighbours and the cockatrice that makes its home with her, is shaped by the foods she eats and her connection to the landscape. Eating allows her to connect with that part of herself that she has closed off, that she has alienated herself from, and the act of eating allows her to connect to parts of herself that she has denied: her desires, heat, anger, and passion.

To discover more about Nalo Hopkinson, visit her website at nalohopkinson.com

Northern Frost Giant Family Troubles

A review of Chadwick Ginther’s “Runt of the Litter” in OnSpec Vol 26, No. 1
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of OnSpec vol 26 no 1 courtesy of OnSpec

Cover Photo of OnSpec vol 26 no 1 courtesy of OnSpec

Where else are you going to find the Frost Giants of Norse mythology than in Northern Canada? Chadwick Ginther’s “Runt of the Litter” allows us to explore a Frost Giant (Jotunn) who escapes from his family’s northern climes to find a place where he won’t be bullied any more for being a mere 10 feet tall. Grim, the runt of his Jotunn family escapes south to Winnipeg in order to find a place of belonging where he isn’t at risk from constantly family violence. Like any Frost Giant Werewolf… he just wants to find a place in the world that he can make his home. And for a while he was succeeding, finding an apartment with high enough ceilings to accommodate his height when indoors (outdoors, of course, he shapeshifts into a smaller form to blend in with humanity). Unfortunately, his great great great great grandfather Loki, the Norse god of mischief finds him… and where Loki goes, disruption follows…. and in this case, so do Grim’s family who are in pursuit of Loki for his regular mischievous antics.

When a Norse god’s sense of fun is stirring up trouble that can either end in excitement or near-death experiences, things can get really shook up… more so than the thumping feet of the Jotunn. Grim has to decide whether he can trust Loki – after all he is family. Ginther’s narrative is one of the discomforts of family and the complexities involved in family interactions. He explores the image of family as a set of shifting alliances and temporary bonds… largely to create a united front against other family members. He illustrates the precarity of family relationships and the constantly shifting nature of belonging.

Ginther uses the figure of the Jotunn, a figure that is often portrayed in recent stories as fundamentally dim and incapable of complex thought, in a multifaceted way. The Norse Frost Giants were generally pretty intelligent, often out-thinking the Norse gods, so Ginther had a rich heritage of diversity in the intelligence of his subject matter. Ginther explores both the intelligent and the dim and muscly side of the Frost Giant, putting the two images in contrast (and conflict) with one another. Grim exemplifies all of the smart, wily quality of the giants, where most of his brothers are simply large slabs of moving meat. This contrast puts the reader in the position of examining the way that intelligence and brute force butt heads in our popular fiction and portrayals of the heroic and villainous.

Of course, when Loki is involved, nothing is as it seems and everything is subject to being shaken up… which is when the most exciting things happen.

To read more about OnSpec and consider subscribing to their magazine, visit http://www.onspec.ca/currentissue

To find out more about Chadwick Ginther, visit http://chadwickginther.com

“But nothing is ever really fixed. Michael’s father once told him about entropy and he never forgot. Something that depressing is hard to forget. Everything is eroding; people slow it down by fixing their cars and fixing their love lives and fixing their bodies, but in the end, it all falls apart anyway.”

-Brett Savory – In and Down (Brindle & Glass, 2007)

Quote – Entropy

Water and Reflection

A review of Ursula Pflug’s “The Water Man” In Harvesting The Moon and Other Stories (PS Publishing Limited, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of the author

Cover photo courtesy of the author

Water: it runs through all of us, binding us together; we need it but too much of it can kill us; it is reflective and we can see ourselves in it, slightly distorted (which sometimes reveals more than a clean, perfect image); it is changeable. Ursula Pflug plays with the multiplicity of magic embodied in water in “The Water Man”, exploring how water connects us but also reveals that individuality is a fiction and we are made up of multiple parts, always shifting and changing. Pflug takes something as common and ordinary as water and turns it into something extraordinary, revealing for readers that water has always had a quasi-magical quality.

Exploring the life of a mask-maker who creates new artistic visions out of people’s discarded junk, and the weird thoughts that come from sharing water, Pflug explores transformative possibilities, revealing that the static world is entirely one of imagination and that everything is constantly changing. “The Water Man” takes place at a time of celebration, a carnival that reminds viewers that the world is in a perpetual state of death and rebirth as winter becomes spring, that new worlds are always forming and that they need that sleepy time of freezing to dream up new visions of the world.

To discover more about Ursula Pflug, visit her website at http://www.ursulapflug.ca/
To find out more about Harvesting The Moon and Other Stories, visit http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/harvesting-the-moon-hardcover-ursula-pflug-2155-p.asp