Review of World Fantasy Award nominee “The Neurastheniac” by Selena Chambers

This is the fifth and final review of the nominees for the World Fantasy Award for best short fiction in 2015. Winners will be announced in October. Other reviews are hereherehere and here

If I wanted to read “The Neurastheniac” by Selena Chambers I had to order the anthology it’s published in, which I didn’t mind doing, but discovering that Cassilda’s Song was created to pay tribute to “The King in Yellow” put me off right from the start.

I like a good bit of weird fiction. I even like weird fiction that pays tribute to particular fictional mythos (See my review of “The Deepwater Bride” for example.), but I have my limits. All of us do. Weird fiction that requires me to delve into a mythos I don’t find particularly compelling has to be either stylistically interesting and conceptually fresh or stylistically fresh and conceptually interesting to hold my attention. In my opinion this story did not make that cut.

That said, if you love the Yellow King mythos you may very well appreciate this story and others in the anthology Cassilda’s Song, edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., and published by Chaosium Inc. “The Neurastheniac” draws the reader into the cold, dead, and oh-so-compelling world of Carcosa by employing a highly stylized narration where the text purports to be an excerpt from a dossier that examined of the unpublished works of some crazy woman who offs herself in the 1960s. Stylistically interesting, yes, but also so removed from the action of the story this reader had a hard time latching on. Would a living character have made the difference? I’m not sure.

Much of the language is academic, as might be expected, but it also sounds older than the story’s timeframe, making me feel that Edgar Allan Poe hid behind every curtain when I thought I should have found Jim Morrison instead. When the excerpt quotes the dead writer in question, the language is much more personal, but her voice is mostly expressed in poetry that reflects the “author’s” drug-induced or dream-induced state, leaving the reader uncertain where this story is tethered.

The story’s references to the characters of Carcosa remain unexplored. One has to do some research in order to better understand the connections to the anthology’s theme.

Thumbs down and 1.5 stars out of 5.

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