What I Didn't See
by Karen Joy Fowler
Small Beer Press
Awards: Winner, Best Collection, 2011 World Fantasy Awards; The Pelican Bar, from this collection won the 2010 World Fantasy Award for short story.
men are turned into
animals, it’s hard for them to find their way back to themselves.
When children are turned into animals, there’s no self to find.
There’s never been a feral child who found his way out of the dark.
Maybe there’s never been a feral child who wanted to.
Reviewed by Annie Clarkson
collection was gripping from the start. The opening story, The
Pelican Bar, has a
sassy teenage character Norah. She is defiant, difficult and perhaps
like many teenagers we know. Only this is not a typical story of
adolescence. Norah is taken away to a sadistic boot camp and the
norms of expected society are skewed and pushed to the extreme. It’s
a compelling read, shocking and gratuitously detailed.
of Karen Fowler’s stories take us into such dark places, whether
they are buried in war tunnels in Vietnam or in the darkness of a
fairy tale. They contain abductions, abuses, assassination, cults,
and war. At times they are magical or surreal, but the writer grounds
her stories in such vivid physical details ("skin rashes, eye
infections, aching teeth, constant hunger, stomach cramps") that
they feel all too real. And the feelings of paranoia, jealousy,
humiliation, love, fear are so ingrained into the characters of these
stories that they seep into the reader.
story reaches its mark. There are moments, perhaps where a reader
might feel unsure where a story is going, or feel a little lost. But,
always, we are brought around. By the end all momentary doubts are
transgressed as we realize, this writer knew where she was taking us
are two stories that concern Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. The
first is from the perspective of the John Wilkes Booth’s family and
is beautifully written. Fowler writes gripping historical stories
that bring us intimately close to the times and geographies of her
characters. The second is from the perspective of a girl whose mother
owned the boarding house from which the assassination was planned and
executed. It is a very different perspective on the event, and brings
us a subjective view of a girl in love with the man who killed him.
stories in the collection are powerful, but The
Dark stayed with this
reviewer for a particularly long time. It opens with a series of
seemingly unconnected strange incidents occurring years apart in
Yosemite. Then we follow Keith, who is researching bubonic plague and
we are taken to different parts of the world and times exploring
pandemics. Finally we go to Vietnam where Keith is testing rats for
bubonic plague in tunnels. The narrative skips around and our
imagination bridges the gaps between the different places and people,
until we become infected with Keith’s paranoia about the wild boy
in Yosemite, and Victor the strange "tunnel rat" in Vietnam. It’s
an energetic story that fires all our synapses and leaves questions
that left this reviewer wanting to immediately read the story again.
are no obvious stories in this collection. All of them take
unexpected trajectories. They are collectively witty, quirky,
strange, beautiful, disturbing, mythical, original, and authentic. We
can follow the decline of a grandma with Alzheimer’s in the same
book as witnessing a gorilla hunt in the Congo. Rather than take a
theme, or an overall narrative arc, or focus on a certain part of the
world, these stories take in diverse subject matter and geographies.
This means we are can never be sure where we are or what each page
might bring. This is eclectic approach to a collection is exciting,
and steers us away from the safer approach that many other
Read a story by this author in Asimovs
|Annie Clarkson is
a poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her chapbook
of prose poems Winter Hands was published by
Shadow Train Books in 2007. Her short fiction has been published in
various anthologies, magazines and online, including Litmus
(Comma), Unsaid Undone
and This Road We’re On
(Flax Books), Transmission,
Succour, Mslexia, Dreamcatcher, and