April is the month of new beginnings, new life, and regeneration. So, for April, the stories in Page and Spine feature death, death, and more death. Of course, regeneration and new life is always built on the deaths of the past. Dead grass and leaves provide nourishment for the new greenery and the new buds on the rejuvenated trees. So perhaps the theme of death so prevalent in all these stories is not so incongruous after all.
To recap: In The Unmoveable Sky, members of the crew and transgressors have died, violently, and everybody (possibly none of them human) is going to presumably die as they enter the singularity. In Stutter, Pete may or may not die, but he is certainly eliminated. In A Canvassed Soul, Sariah dies. An Act of God results in Suzanne's death by drowning. Sarah's Embrace features Sarah's death. And in Your Ex- Lindy has died and it is at least implied that the narrator is intending to do the same, by her own hand.
But the story I want to focus on is the one not on that list: A Burial by Jack Campbell, Jr. This story allows us to watch, in detail and from a unique perspective, deaths perhaps more tragic than any of the others. We see here the death of a marriage—indeed, the death of family. No matter what may come, we can be certain that this family will never be the healthy entity it once was. And that brings the death of a child's feelings of security and serenity—the death of his childhood, perhaps, at such a young age. And also, possibly, the death of a man's courage, fortitude, and sense of purpose. If it has not died, it has certainly gone into a coma.
I could not help but contrast this with the character in Heartland from the March 13th issue. That man is the very epitome of fortitude. He is physically almost spent, at forty-two, yet does his duty to his family without hesitation. You get the feeling that giving up is something he is incapable of even contemplating. Tanner's father, however, has surrendered.
His wife is complicit in that surrender. We don't know how long he's been unemployed before we first see the family, though we know it's been at least a few weeks. And now she seems to excoriate Tanner's father with every utterance, and every address is an insult. I found it telling that most of the profanity comes from her.
The saddest thing, of course, is that both parents have stopped parenting. They are so wrapped up in their dissatisfaction that they have no energy to even bother with their son.
Did you notice that Mommy and Daddy never call each other by name in the story? And they never address Tanner or Otis by name, either. Tanner is "Buddy, and "Sweetie," "the boy" and "the kid." Mommy is addressed as "Woman" and "Baby." Daddy seems to have many names, none of them suitable for polite company. The parents have dehumanized each other, and reduced their son to something less important than a human being.
I've discovered that sometimes readers take something from the story that the author did not necessarily mean to convey. I don't know if this is the case or not, but what I got from this story was the courage of Tanner.
Tanner is afraid of being punished for taking the shotgun. He's afraid of the woods and the possible dangers therein. But he braves these fears to do what he sees as necessary. He endures the physical pain his courage demands to fulfill his mission. If his father had shown half the determination Tanner shows, their family would not have dissolved, whether he was employed or not. And if Tanner's mother had near the concern for Tanner as he has for Otis, she would never have left.
The adults have descended into childish behavior while the child has demonstrated the actions of a responsible adult. That his actions are not likely to accomplish what he hopes is irrelevant.
A excellent piece of work.
Another story that caught my attention was Sarah's Embrace by Norm Hamilton, but for a different reason. With this story, I noticed the style. Lots of one-line and one-sentence paragraphs here.
It emphasizes Danny's thinking; it reflects that Danny's life has lost any smoothness or continuity. It has become moments of involvement separated by periods of drift.
The paragraph-as-sentence also lends significance to those moments. Each thought is important by itself, and isolated from the other thoughts.
There is one thing that, given the evidence, seems a mistake. The entire story is told in third person...except once.
One paragraph deviates: "God, I hate phones."
If he'd done this a few times—lapse from third to first person—it might be a very good device as an additional and very unorthodox attention grabber. But as just a one-time thing, it looks more like a lapse into carelessness.
One more story demands discussion: A Canvased Soul by Mandy Alyss Brown. This is an excellent example of what is now accepted (at least by editors) as modern fantasy. There are no rules, no cause for the effect, not even a passing nod to conventional logic. Everything is possible, and only the limits of the author's imagination sets the borders of what might be.
But there still must be a story, and a well-told one, to make the fantasy work. This story qualifies.
It's short, it's entertaining (the most important feature!), and it even has two themes.
Theme one is how greed can turn good people bad and it doesn't take all that long. Theme two is an old one, tried and true. Heroes will sacrifice themselves to save others, and will do so right to their last breath. And those others need that sacrifice, and will accept it because, after all, not everyone can be a hero.
If April represents new life rising from death, then some of these stories fit into that theme. Sariah's death gives new hope and the chance for a new life to her siblings. Suzanne's death in An Act of God has provided the opportunity for the lives of the narrator's twin girls. And Tanner has that tremendous hope of a child that the burial of that shotgun will provide the chance for a rebirth of his family.
Now I find myself anticipating the stories that will come like flowers in May. Will they be as sweet and colorful as April's?
♦ Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher and coach who writes poetry, articles, short stories, novellas, and novels as the muse attacks; as an author he considers himself a work in progress.
♦ This author's generous contributions help make P&S possible.