Salon Fantastique: Yours, Etc.

“Yours, Etc.” is the story of a man walking around the outside of his house to ward off ghosts, while remembering people he has known who died. It is full of paragraphs like this:

He’d never found out how. He was surprised how upset he was. His wife told him again about her stand-in theory and he had said sure, maybe there was something in that. Both of them knew she didn’t mean it. She was just talking, helping him fill the empty space until he got used to the girl’s death. He thought about the girl a lot and realized that she had been alive to him, she’d encapsulated a universe in a way that he felt many of the people he knew didn’t. He’d believed in her in a way he didn’t believe in other people.

The use of so many sentences starting with pronouns has, I think, two effects, both of which interact with the effect of the story’s fantastic component. The first effect is that the pronouns personalise the story; almost everything that happens is defined in terms of how it affects either the protagonist’s emotions or his actions. In fact, the story has almost no context beyond the personal. We never learn much about where the protagonist lives, for instance. The second effect is that the repetition (which reflects the repetitiveness of the protagonist’s actions, walking around and around his house) becomes numbing, and contributes to the affectless tone of most of the story. It is a very interior story, but almost every emotion is held at arm’s length from us; we are not invited in to share them.

And both these effects tend to damp down our reaction to anything external to the protagonist — the characters feel (to me) quite clearly contemporary in their thoughts and reactions, but the landscape they exist in is vague — but in particular, they damp down our reaction to the story’s fantastic component. The ghosts the protagonist sees are a regular feature of his life; just another part of the landscape. Or, to put it another way, the fantastic in “Yours, Etc” is not handled in the way that it is handled in a story like “The Guardian of the Egg”. In Grant’s story, reality is more dreamlike than ours to start with; the everyday concerns never arise. The protagonist wears a pair of antlers to work for a day and nobody notices. But the story’s style enables it to retain a connection to human experience nonetheless.

So far so good. The construction of the story is neat on other levels, as well: the protagonist is specifically aiming to ward ghosts away from his wife, who is inside the house writing letters (to ghosts). The reflection of the emotional separation of the two characters in their physical separation is effective — there are a couple of remembered conversations, but the two don’t come together in the present tense of the story until the very end. And there is a neat shift in tone as this happens; those personal statements shift from what the protagonist doesn’t know or isn’t certain about to what he does know and is certain about — “He would not disappear. This was his wife. This was his life. This was his path around his house. His home.”

It’s satisfying, but not a story I have any urge to re-read; I don’t feel there’s more to be mined from a repeat visit. Which is odd, because the style and tone of the story is reminiscent of Gavin J. Grant’s earlier “Heads Down, Thumbs Up“. That story (which is excellent, and which you should read right now because as far as I know the SciFiction archive is still due to be taken down at the end of the year [see comments, again]) felt as though it was written with deliberate gaps: answers and understanding open to our interpretation, which of course will be different for every person every time the story is read. “Yours, Etc.” feels to start with as though it’s intended in the same way, but the ambiguity doesn’t matter in the way that it matters to “Heads Down, Thumbs Up”, it doesn’t offer the same interpretive richness; the protagonist asserts himself, he is led into the house by his wife, and the story is over.

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7 Responses to “Salon Fantastique: Yours, Etc.”

  1. Ellen Datlow Says:

    Niall,
    Where did you hear that the archives are to be taken down at the end of the year? I haven’t heard that…

  2. Niall Says:

    Damn, you’re quick!

    Scouting around, it seems I was misremembering comments like this and this — where you say you hope the archives will be up for “at least a year”. I have a memory of having the 1-year deadline confirmed, but now I can’t find anything about it, so I’m inclined to think I just made it up. Huzzah!

    And speaking of other things mentioned in those comments … did anything ever happen about a SciFiction anthology?

  3. Niall Says:

    Oh, and I suspect I now won’t be able to review every story in the book — I’m planning to do three or four more this week, but I’m away over New Year, and then quite busy the week after. Does anyone have any requests…? (I’m definitely doing the Sherman and the Gilman.)

  4. Mely Says:

    My request was going to be the Gilman. :) I’d also love to hear what you think about Cat Valente’s story.

  5. Ellen Datlow Says:

    Niall,
    I have no idea how long the site will be up… it could be taken down any time. No one would give ME notice as I’m not longer an employee.

    There still might be a best of SCIFICTION antho if I can get Craig to sign off on it…I’ll give another little push after the new year.

    You can take longer than a couple of weeks to finish off the book ;-)

  6. Rich Horton Says:

    Besides seeing what you make of the Gilman story, I’d be interested in seeing your thought’s on Jedediah Berry’s story.

  7. Salon Fantastique: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street « Torque Control Says:

    [...] Per Rich’s request, this was meant to be a post about Jedidiah Berry’s story, “To Measure the Earth”. Unfortunately, I find myself with nothing of interest to say about the story — it seemed to me far and away the weakest of the Salon Fantastique stories I’ve read, largely because of the extent to which it embraces obliqueness. At one point, one of the characters notes that “Questions distract”, and we’re apparently meant to take her seriously, despite the fact that insisting on answers is exactly what any half-way intelligent person would be doing. But “To Measure the Earth” isn’t about people, it’s about ciphers; they’re held at arm’s length, and the vagueness of the precise relations between some of them, or the meaning of some of their actions, is more frustrating than suggestive. [...]


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