WONDERful

Wonderful

A review of Cait Gordon’s A Night at The Rabbit Hole in Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland edited by Colleen Anderson (Exile, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Alice in Wonderland is a story that plays with identity, disrupting the power that normativity has on our society. Cait Gordon has tapped into that power that Wonderland has to resist normativity and creates a GenderQueer Alice who has just come out and taken on their new name and pronouns. It is refreshing to read a story featuring a GenderQueer character that is not about the struggles of occupying their identity. In A Night at The Rabbit Hole, Alice is instantly accepted for their gender and people don’t slip up and refer to them as anything other than “them” after one quick correction.

Gordon uses the Alice in Wonderland text for its power to disrupt power structures that erase identity possibilities and instead writes a story filled with potential and possibility.

A Night at the Rabbit Hole is a tale about a meeting in a dance club where Alice is given a pill that transforms their perspective and gives them an expanded view of the world around them, allowing them to see through human disguises to the creatures beneath. Gordon plays with the question of what could alter someone’s perspective like the “drink me” potion and mushroom that Alice takes in Carroll’s story and ultimately comes up with the connection to club drugs. After Alice took their pill (here called a “tart”), I have to admit that the Jefferson Airplane song White Rabbit was running through my head as Alice’s perspectives were warped, and I think that Gordon intended to plant this trippy tune in the minds of her readers.

Cait Gordon’s characteristic playfulness comes through in this tale of altered reality and questioned norms and she invites readers to chuckle at clever witticisms at the same time as they speculate about possibilities beyond the simple world that they live in. This is a story that empowers at the same time as it entertains

To discover more about Alice Unbound, go to http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/alice-unbound-beyond-wonderland/

To find out more about Cait Gordon, visit her website at https://caitgordon.com

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A War Across the Glass

A War Across The Glass

A review of Patrick Bollivar’s “Operation: Looking Glass” in Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland Edited by Colleen Anderson (Exile 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

It turns out Wonderland isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Patrick Bollivar’s “Operation: Looking Glass” explores a group of people who are in a battle with Wonderland to get their sister back. The Wonderland that Bollivar envisions is one that is at war with the human world and at war with itself. It is suffused with an aether, an air that transforms people and animals who cross through the looking glass into this strange world.

Bollivar imagines the potential for Wonderland to have a contagious effect but unites this contagious transformation with a specific location – Wonderland. The contagious effect varies, but it changes people’s personalities and ideologies and it changes animals into hybridized figures with human and animal characteristics. This Wonderland has been at war with itself, conflicted both in terms of its inherent contradictions but also literally engaged in battle.

Bollivar creates a steampunkesque diving story, but this particular group of adventurers are diving into another world… though one that they need as much protection from as they would at the bottom of the ocean.

Like many of the authors in Alice Unbound, Bollivar unites aspects of Lewis Carroll’s life with the world that he created when he wrote Wonderland, and this particular tale involves the Liddell children, who served as inspirations for Carroll’s writing. The characters in Bollivar’s tale call Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland a propagandist text, ignoring the real horrors of Wonderland.

This is a highly exciting steampunk story that provides a contrast between the rational world and the world of dangerous whimsy that lay on the other side of a simple sheet of glass.

To find out more about Alice Unbound, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/alice-unbound-beyond-wonderland/

Story Gestation

Story Gestation

A review of “Where Roots and Rivers Run as Veins” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (Exile, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

It is an incredible experience to view a story at its gestation, to be able to watch as the seeds of inspiration take root in an author’s mind. I had that opportunity when my friend Dominik Parisien visited me in Peterborough and our meanderings through the city’s woods and drumlines inspired Dominik with a story about the landscape and the relationship between people and their environment.

I watched as Peterborough’s greenery inspired new ideas, led Dominik though some of the city’s history and saw resonance with ideas that were rooted in his own understanding of the world and in the stories that he needed to tell. Peterborough became fascinating through the eyes of another author, awakened from the banality that I had projected onto my home, the casual boredom that allowed me to ignore the wondrous potential of the landscape.

It is fascinating how new perspectives can arise by seeing something mundane through the eyes of another, by seeing a landscape be awakened with new stories since the old ones had become so much background noise for me.

Dominik Parisien wrote the epistolary story “Where Roots and Rivers Run as Veins” after our meanderings around Peterborough, and as much as it is a conversation between two women during the time of Catharine Parr Traill, this tale is also about Parisien’s own conversation with a landscape that was new to him, a reminder that we always speak with our landscapes and they always speak back. “Where Roots and Rivers Run as Veins” is a tale of people becoming part of the landscape, of an infection of leaves and bark and twigs where people become tress, growing roots into a landscape already rooted with history. It is a whispering of landscape to settlers and the need of a place not to be erased.

“Where Roots and Rivers Run as Veins” is a story of awakening and transformation, a tale of the power of words to open up new understandings and new ways of communing with the landscape. It is a tale of renewal and of a landscape that won’t surrender itself to human greed or ownership.

It is also a meta story that is as much about Parisien’s own conversation with the landscape of Peterborough – a sense of wonder arisen from a landscape that still needs to speak – as it is an epistolary conversation between two women who are new arrivals to the area.

To find out more about Those Who Make Us, visit http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/those-who-make-us-the-exile-book-of-anthology-series-number-thirteen/.

To discover more about Dominik Parisien, visit https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com

Blood and Spit into this Artwork

Blood and Spit into this Artwork.  A review of Andrew Wilmot’s “Fostering Artistic Talent” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories Edited by Kaitlin Tremblay and Kelsi Morris (Exile, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

We are always told that art is sacrifice and we have embedded the idea of the suffering artist into our public imagination, but what about the suffering of the tools of our art. Andrew Wilmot’s “Fostering Artistic Talent” examines morals around artistic production and the relationship between the human and animal environment. Famous artist Samael kills cephalopods to produce art, using their writhing movements and fluid bodies to spread paint and bodily fluids around on canvases. Samael does sacrifice for his art… he just doesn’t engage in personal sacrifice.

Samael de-values animal life, seeing the cephalopods he kills as disposable art tools rather than as beings worthy of life and capable of suffering. By bringing attention to the clash between Samael and animal rights advocates, Wilmot’s tale brings attention to the complexity of artistic expression and the limits of artistic expression. This is a tale that engages in debate about animal agency, animal cruelty, animal intelligence and the ethics of art, inviting readers to engage in critical questions about aesthetics and animal life. 

Wilmot purposely choses to focus his tale around animals that are generally not treated as aesthetically pleasing on their own, cephalopods, to bring attention to the critical issues around animal rights and the focus of animal rights discourse around cute animals. By including a cephalopod named Kandinsky, named after an artist itself, Wilmot brings attention to the idea of living cephalopods as art and his artist’s need to transform this beauty into his own artistic works instead of recognizing the natural beauty of the living, unmodified animal. He brings attention to human-centrism and the human conception of art as things that are modified and manipulated by us.

To find out more about the work of Andrew Wilmot, check out his site at http://andrewwilmot.ca

To find out more about Those Who Make Us, visit http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/those-who-make-us-the-exile-book-of-anthology-series-number-thirteen/

Truths in Fiction

Truths in FictionA review of Kate Story’s “Where Will The Seas Roll Up Their Thunder” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (Exile, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Where Will the Seas Roll Up Their Thunder”, Kate Story speaks through a voice that is underused in fiction in generally, and especially in monster stories – the voice of an older woman who lives in a long term care home. This woman is having a conversation with a student about a topic that is generally unrepresented in fiction featuring older adults – the future. Story still explores ideas of the past and nostalgia, which are firmly connected to the representation of older adults, but she connects these not to the woman’s age, but to her status as a Newfoundlander, interested in Newfoundland history.

Story captures the rambling quality of a good storyteller, willing to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas and willing to go into tangents and rants. She captures the magic of storytelling and links it to exploring the truth behind narratives. She interacts with key features of narrative like the feeling of being chosen (a theme that is over-represented in fantasy narratives) and the problematic quality of this theme and how it stems from a life that seeks significance when being underrepresented as a woman in canonical stories. Her unnamed older woman wants to have made an impact on the world around her, a significant change and not to be easily erased. She interacts with notions of truth and fiction and the assumption that older adults are indulging in fantasy if they mention the strange and unnatural rather than representing truths. Her narrator has access to truths that others ignore. She points out the interweaving of landscape and story by presenting her narrator uncovering truths located beneath the surface of the Newfoundland landscape and things hidden in plain sight.

Story blends science and fantasy in her narrative, giving a new origin story for the tales of dragons and connecting past and future in a cycle of death and rebirth. 

Story connects the skepticism of the student researcher to the possibility of truth in a narrative inside of what seems to be a folkloric story. She highlights the multiplicity of truths and points out that “truth” itself is a story, always subject to revisions and changes.

To discover more about Kate Story’s work, visit http://www.katestory.com

To discover more about Those Who Make Us, visit http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/those-who-make-us-the-exile-book-of-anthology-series-number-thirteen/

A Magnetic Environment

A review of Kate Story’s “Animate” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

People and our landscapes are in a complicated relationship with each other, altering one another through our interactions. Our landscapes shape us as much as we shape them. In “Animate”, Kate Story explores a toxic landscape, yet one that is also full of mystery. Story sets her tale in Newfoundland’s Tableland, a strange red-orange scar in an otherwise green and verdant landscape where the rocks are magnetic and their toxicity prevents plant growth. Yet it exerts a pull on the bodies of her characters, literally pulling on their facial features

Story examines the strangeness of Newfoundland – its ability to represent so many unique geological features in one island and the potential of the landscape to imprint itself on our memories and our bodies. She explores the possibility of a psycho-geographic effect, a strange link between people and the landscapes that they occupy, each reflecting each other. Story examines the complexity of ideas of home by exploring a space other than the house, but rather the way that a larger environment imprints on us. We often think about our landscapes in terms of human change, but rarely examine the way that we are, in turn, shaped by our spaces of home, the landscapes that we occupy. 

To discover more about the work of Kate Story, visit http://www.katestory.com
To discover more about Exile Editions, visit http://exileeditions.com

A Shattered Touchstone

A review of Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017).By Derek Newman-Stille

Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis” is a tale about the return to a changed land. Like Rati Mehrotra’s tale in Cli Fi, this tale features an older person, but unlike Mehrotra’s tale, where the protagonist is stationary in a changing land, this aged character is returning to a place that has become his touchstone over the years, associated with memory, and able to remind him who he is. The problem is that his touchstone has changed, deteriorated by the impact of environmental destruction. Although wildlife is returning to this landscape as human beings move into the cities, that wildlife is struggling to stay healthy and survive in the damaged environment that remains. 

The protagonist works in mental health and frequently works with people who are experiencing memory loss, and that notion of memory is a significant one in this narrative as it shifts through different periods of time while memories arise one after the next inspired by glimpses of familiar scenes altered by time and the human desire to change our environment. 

Age is a significant factor in this tale as the protagonist is able to draw on a lifetime of memories of a place to reflect on its changes and highlight the way that the world has shifted. North American society is relatively short sighted about our impact on the environment, so it is significant that Virgo chooses a long duree approach to the environment, observing it over the course of a lifetime to see the impact of change. 

To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com