“Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff captures a piece of early 20th century Brooklyn

Note: This the last of the reviews of the short stories nominated for the 2017 Nebula Awards. The full list of nominees is here, and you can find the other reviews by scrolling down and looking at recent posts on this site, or search by the author’s name in the search bar. 

I didn’t think I was going to get to “Sabbath Wine”, published in Clockwork Phoenix 5 before the SFWA Conference, but author Barbara Krasnoff took that extra step and sent me the link to the online version of the story, which you can find here. I’m so glad she did. “Sabbath Wine” is nothing like any of the other nominated stories. It’s the mildest ghost story you’ll ever read There’s not a scare in the whole tale, but it’s sweet portrayal of dead children and grieving fathers that captures both a certain place and time and a universal truth or two.

Young Malka, a nine-year-old Jewish girl meets a slightly older African American boy, David, on a stoop in her neighborhood in Brooklyn, circa the 1920s. Malka wants to invite David for a Sabbath dinner, which will take some effort to arrange, including convincing her atheist father and finding wine in the middle of Prohibition. David promises that his bootlegging father can provide the wine, and the two families ultimately meet for the Sabbath dinner.

At first, I was impatient with the story. It feels very old-fashioned with its straight-up realism and slow dawdling around in the neighborhood, describing places and pushing out a lot of preliminary dialogue. It is old fashioned. That’s not a crime though, is it? Once I settled my mind down and read to absorb the setting and voices of the characters, I enjoyed the story.

In the end, I took away two things. First, we really do need to remember to read for the pure pleasure of being transplanted to an entirely different place, time, and social structure. These narratives somehow give us a foothold for understanding what people were like during that time in history, and as we move solidly into the 21st Century it feels like it is time to start preserving the voices of the 20th Century.  Second, this is a delightful story, but it hardly qualifies as fantasy or horror. The story is more about the living than the ghosts that inhabit it, and I immediately took the children’s story as a starting point to look for the darkness.

It’s the fathers. My apologies to the author, who probably had no intention of her story being anything else than it is, but my interest was provoked by these two men who have the audacity to drag along their dead children’s ghosts to a new place and keep them around for self-punishment? comfort? companionship? This smells of moral corruption, no? I’m inspired, in the worst possible way, to wonder what happens next.

Thumbs up and 4.25 of 5 stars.

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A Nebula-nominated short story with tongue in cheek and arm in mouth

Note: this is the second to last review of the short stories nominated for this year’s Nebula Award. All but one of the other nominees are reviewed in recent posts on this site. The one that is missing is “Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff. Check back on May 16th and that review should be up as well. 

I tend to prefer drama over comedies, but right now — after months of marching and protesting the fiasco that is our current government — I need all the humorous stories I can find. “Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0” by Caroline Yoachim fits the bill. This funny little story is told in second person, and it’s broken up into segments like a decision tree — if you do x, go to y, etc.

The narrator tells of a tragic tale of injury and insult resulting in death on a space station inhabited with fanciful characters who would have been quite at home in the Mos-Eisley Cantina. The reader will recognize the weary endurance that dominates the tale as our narrator goes from room to room in the medical clinic looking for help in a world enslaved by bureaucratic processes.

The story isn’t deep or important, but it made me laugh. Thanks.

Thumbs up and 4.5 stars out of 5.

 

Nightscript II is a rich anthology of high-quality weirdness / Nightscript II es una rica antología de extrañezas de muy buena calidad

This never happens: I buy an anthology because of a short story that is on a preliminary awards list and that story disappears from the final list of nominees and I still love the anthology and am glad I bought it. But that’s exactly what happened with Nightscript II: An Anthology of Strange and Darksome Tales, edited by C.M. Muller.

I took a chance on it because “Reasons I Hate my Big Sister” by Gwendolyn Kiste was on the long list for the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction. The story is quite good but somehow got eliminated from the final list of nominees. For weeks the anthology was my bedtime reading, and I hopped and skipped all over it, appreciating every single story for the quality of the writing even if the theme or resolution didn’t totally grab me.

Standouts:

  • “The Carnival Arrives in Darkness” by Michael Griffin–very unique approach to the subject matter. More sweet than weird.
  • “The Inveterate Establishment of Daddano & Co.” by Eric J. Guignard–interesting narrator with a great voice.
  • “Nearness” by Ralph Robert Moore–the most intimately horrifying story in the whole anthology.
  • “No Abiding Place on Earth” by Matthew M. Bartlett–most frightening creatures and great description.
  • “Pause for Laughter” by José Cruz–truly an existential tale of a future. Touching in a weird way, which is hard to fathom, considering it’s told by a machete-wielding clown.

This is an anthology you should not ignore. I liked it so much I’m going to ask Muller if he’ll do a little Q&A here. And I’m going to get Nightscript I soon.  Nightscript III will be out in October.

Read more in spanish here:  Continue reading