Short Story Club: “The Slows”

Unfortunately, I have run out of time today — I’m rushing out the door to catch a train to catch a flight — so you don’t get a round-up of quotes this week. Just another link to the story, “The Slows” by Gail Hareven, and instructions to have at it! I’ll check in again this evening, hopefully.

UPDATE: OK, here we go.

Maureen:

This is a very dense story. There’s a lot going on in it anyway, and a lot more if one chooses to read it against Brave New World. It’s not a story to love, not because it’s a badly constructed story but because it is difficult and complex and unpleasant. It’s a rich story which can be read in a number of different ways, and that is something I do like.

Chance:

The story fails as a science fictional one – the worldbuilding is paper thin and the story never engages with the consequences of accelerated growth and the ensuing population explosion and cultural shifts except in a most cursory manner. Nor does it lead the reader to engage with the question about how minority populations are treated because the narrator’s perspective is so obnoxious and closed-minded that it’s easy to dismiss him without thought.

Instead, it works best as a horror story in the vein of Lovecraft where the narrator has been confronted with something unknowable and viscerally repulsive to him and as a result he cracks and commits a horrific act that he can’t reconcile with his supposedly superior nature.

Big Dumb Object (with bonus comment on the previous two stories):

The revulsion of the post-humans to small children is a good idea and shown nicely to begin with, tediously by the end. There’s some emotion in there, but it stays on one note – don’t take my child away – and never moves beyond that, consequently leaving me feeling a bit flat by the end, rather than moved.

Overall The Slows felt like a great SF idea needing a story, instead of just a conversation investigating that idea.

Perpetual Folly:

A bit of allegory is it? The problem with allegory often is that you can make it mean whatever you want it to. So, I pick a political interpretation. Obviously, the Slows are the Conservatives/Republicans. They think they are preserving the old ways, but they are really just standing in the way of progress. And the Accelerateds are Progressives/Democrats, who are on the verge of eliminating the last of the Slows. Total domination. (There is that nagging bit bout an outbreak of Slow behavior in the colonies, but maybe that’s just the suggestion that backwardness, like polio, cannot truly be eradicated.) Or something. (Of course the author isn’t American, she’s Israeli, and so I’m almost certainly wrong. So then, what’s it about?)

Slouching Towards Bushwick:

He ends the story with an explicit lie, the final denial. After she “spat out” “Don’t touch me!” he says, “No one’s touching you” in a deluded and defensive tone, emphasizing the levels of denial that his society foists on him: denial of physical experiences and truth-telling. Not only has he just touched her but the guards are on their way. But her vision of him as a sexual creature immediately eradicates his sympathy for her. If his superior sense of self as a person without needs, emotionality, and desires is threatened, he shuts down, loses composure, and hastens the immolation of something he values.

Hareven characterizes a person in power with wavering, not depraved, morality. The quality of his disdain, empathy, and repulsion is fleshed out, explicitly contradictory, hard to pin. “Why do you hate us so?” she asks. He gives a brief explanation to the reader, a “key to understanding the Slows’ culture” that does not consider the culture on its own terms but, of course, compares it to the dominant culture. Although her physical territory is threatened at the level of her body and geography, the researcher is isolated. He replies to her, “Hate? Hate is a strong word.”

Lois Tilton at IROSF:

This is the sort of thing that typically happens when a mainstream author gets hold of a SFnal idea. The idea absorbs the narrative at the expense of the story. [Admittedly, this sad result is hardly uncommon in the case of genre authors, as well.] The premise is not without interest, though unoriginal, but it is not well thought through in this case. It seems that the acceleration process does more than speed up growth, it eliminates certain obsolete physical features such as mammary glands. Yet this process is apparently only initiated after birth, which, as far as the text suggests, is accomplished in the same primitive fashion it is now. This is hardly reasonable—who would continue a grotesque and cumbersome nine-month pregnancy when you could instead begin acceleration at conception? The author also suggests that their primitive biology is causing the Slows to die out because they rarely produce more than four offspring. The historical rate of human population growth suggests that this notion is mistaken. But if the accelerated population is still stuck with a 9-month pregnancy, they’re not going to be accelerating all that much, even if women are stuck in a continual lifelong process of gestation. I don’t call this progress, even if we are rid of diapers.

As for the story, such as it is, we have an unsubtle moral message: readers are meant to be revolted by the narrator’s revulsion at the normal state of childhood, at the bonds of love between mother and dependent child. I would not quite call it a political screed advocating breast-feeding, but it serves the purpose.

Some discussion on LJ here; the story scores null points in this New Yorker fiction scoring system; and two members of NESFA commend it to your consideration for Hugo nominations.

Also, wow:

In my book, to the extent that a story is “thought-provoking” — and “The Slows” is certainly that — it cannot be good adult fiction. Only last week, The New Yorker published a story, “Vast Hell,” of incomparably deeper political significance, but the significance is rich because it cannot be reduced to a political decision. In “Vast Hell,” townsmen discover some graves of “the disappeared,” victims of a very bad spell in Argentinian history. The story is about the townsmen, however, and not about the desaparecidos. Guillermo Martínez’s fiction does not teach the reader anything; rather, it kindles a host of synesthetic responses in the mind that recreate, to the extent that the reader is attentive and imaginative, the complexity of making a ghastly discovery that one had been dead set on not making.

“The Slows” is an excellent story for younger readers who are beginning to learn not to read literally: it will kindle outrage. I mean that in earnest and without snark of any kind. There is nothing concealed in my conviction that science fiction has no place in The New Yorker — or in any magazine that I read regularly.

(“Vast Hell”, if you’re interested, can be found here.)

Short Story Club Reminder: “The Slows”

This week’s story is “The Slows” by Gail Hareven. Discussion kicks off on Sunday, although probably slightly earlier than usual.

London Meeting: Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer

The guests at tonight’s BSFA London meeting are Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer, editors of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Banana Wings. They will be interviewed by Tony Keen.

The venue is the upstairs room of The Antelope, 22 Eaton Terrace, London, SW1W 8EZ. The closest tube station is Sloane Square, and a map is here.

As usual, there will be people in the bar from 6-ish, with the interview starting at 7. (I’m going, this month! Though I probably will not arrive until just before 7.) The meeting is free, and open to any and all, though there will be a raffle with a selection of sf books as prizes.

Short Story Club: “The Puma”

Theodora Goss’s story is here. We start our round-up of comment with Kimberley Lundstrom for The Fix:

“The Puma” by Theodora Goss is an interesting take on H.G. Wells’ classic The Island of Dr. Moreau. In Goss’ version, Edward Prendick’s post-island seclusion in the English countryside is interrupted by Catherine, a distinctly feline woman who calls herself Mrs. Prendick. Edward is struck by her beauty, the scars now erased from the face of the Puma Woman who killed Moraeu. Her presence releases a flood of memories for him: of the island, of Moreau, Montgomery, the Beast Men, of the fire and of subsequent actions of his own he would like to forget. But Catherine has come not only to reminisce — she has a favor she would ask, a favor she knows he cannot refuse.

This story is fascinating and well-wrought, flowing smoothly from a conversation between a civilized lady and gentleman in an English garden to the savagery of men and beasts on the island, and back again. Alive with sensory detail, gripping tension, and social commentary, “The Puma” is an engrossing story in its own right as well as a fitting homage to Wells’ novel.

Lois Tilton at IROSF:

A derivative work tends to assume that readers are familiar with the original. Given this, I find that the Puma repeats rather too much of the events on the island, even if they are not quite the same events as in the book. This is otherwise a rather unsettling evocation of the original tale, suggesting that the consequences of evil continue to propagate long before the original evildoer is gone.

Jasminembla:

Read ‘The Puma‘ today at Apex Magazine and really liked the delicate diction, very controlled plotting and neatly researched background. Almost like a fable, with lovely touches of inventive horror and mysterious revenge. So Chabon, ‘influence is bliss.’

Michele Lee:

“The Puma” is a continuation of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, in which Catherine, the puma-woman, tracks down Edward Prendick with a request. One might even say a demand. Goss’ prose is seamless, capturing a deeper meaning of the original story that hints at our own future.

Maureen’s thoughts:

My feelings towards this story are ambivalent. It’s an interesting story, a thought-provoking story, and I think it does interrogate the original novel in useful ways. Certainly, it’s a rich story in terms of topics for discussion, and that can’t be bad. On that level, I’m glad to have read it, to have been prompted to read The Island of Doctor Moreau, and to start thinking more deeply about it. But my ‘entertainment’ … I suppose one should call it that … has come as much from the greater project as from the story on its own. However one addresses a story there surely needs to be, at some point, an umami moment, a moment of just knowing that it’s right, without having to analyse it, and I’m just not getting that from this story. (Of the five I’ve now read for this exercise, the Chris Adrian comes closest, but I’m having a similar struggle with the contents of the latest Dozois Best of Year.) Is it me as a reader that is at fault, jaded as my palate appears to be, or are writers just not pushing far enough? I don’t know, but it’s frustrating.

Rich Horton listed it as a recommended story in the May Locus, but didn’t offer any analysis. A few supplementary links that may or may not be of interest: Goss on the circumstances of the writing of the story; Mark at Dinosaur Blues suggests that it make’s an interesting counterpoint to Jeffrey Ford’s “After Moreau“, and by way of an editorial for the relevant issue of Apex, Sarah Brandel has an essay on “Beast Men and the Human Animal“, discussing both Goss’s story and Ekaterina Sedia’s “The Mind of a Pig“. So a few hooks for discussion there, perhaps. The floor is open.

Where’s the sf?

Well, this is fun. Kim Stanley Robinson sayeth of sf:

The result is the best British literature of our time. Oh, I know there is a Booker prize, I’ve heard of it even in California – supposedly given to the best fiction published in the Commonwealth every year – but there are no Woolves on those juries, and so they judge in ignorance and give their awards to what usually turn out to be historical novels.

Sometimes these are fine historical novels, written by tremendous writers; I particularly like Roddy Doyle, John Banville, Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh, and my favorite was Penelope Fitzgerald. But working, like all of us, in the rain shadow of the great modernists, they tend to do the same things the modernists did in smaller ways. A good new novel about the first world war, for instance, is still not going to tell us more than Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. More importantly, these novels are not about now in the way science fiction is. Thus it seems to me that three or four of the last 10 Booker prizes should have gone to science fiction novels the juries hadn’t read. Should I name names? Why not: Air by Geoff Ryman should have won in 2005, Life by Gwyneth Jones in 2004, and Signs of Life by M. John Harrison in 1997. Indeed this year the prize should probably go to a science fiction comedy called Yellow Blue Tibia, by Adam Roberts.

I note (a) that Life could not have won, alas, since it has not yet been published in the UK; and (b) that I really should get around to reading Yellow Blue Tibia. More usefully and proactively, the Guardian has put the issue to this year’s Booker judges. Quoth the chair of judges:

James Naughtie admitted that Robinson “may well have a point”, but suggested that “perhaps his arrows could be directed even more towards publishers than to judges”.

“There has always been a debate about whether the prize is sufficiently sensitive to all the forms of contemporary writing. He may well have a point,” he said. “We judge books that are submitted. The fact is that the science fiction component this year was very, very thin. If it is the best contemporary fiction in this country then most publishers haven’t yet tumbled to the fact.”

He said that judges had, collectively, been “disappointed at the way ‘the new’ was represented” in this year’s submissions, but said that “the idea that historical fiction is fusty is absurd”. “Our shortlist speaks to us about things around us, from whenever and wherever the books are set,” he said.

And John Mullan:

According to Mullan there was “essentially no” science fiction submitted for this year’s Booker prize, apart from Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, set in a dystopian future, which failed to make the longlist. “We as judges depend a great deal on what publishers submit,” he said. “There are certain kinds of genre fiction which get submitted – thrillers and detective books – which publishers think have literary quality, but this year I find it hard to think of any science fiction which was submitted.”

Around 40 years ago, it was historical fiction which was overlooked, he said. “Thirty to 40 years ago there was Georgette Heyer and it was generally speaking a fairly derided genre, whose standing was rather lower than science fiction where you had John Wyndham. Yet historical fiction has escaped the bodice ripper, so everyone does it,” he said, rejecting Robinson’s claim that historical novels “tend to do the same things the modernists did in smaller ways” and “are not about now”.

“That’s absolute bullshit,” he said. “Of course historical novels can be like that, but really it is not to do with being a historical novel.”

To be pedantic, Robinson didn’t say historical novels aren’t about now, he said they aren’t about now in the way science fiction is. Though of course whether you apply a value judgement to that difference, and if so what judgement you apply, will differ from person to person.

But I have wondered, before, whether sf writers get submitted for the Booker. If I understand the rules correctly, publishers get two titles per imprint, so it doesn’t seem like (in most cases) they’d be using up slots by submitting sf; just getting extra slots, in effect. Of course, I may not understand the rules correctly. Ultimately, this is just one more reason why it would be nice to see a list of what’s submitted for the Booker prize in any given year.

Short Story Club Reminder: “The Puma”

This week’s story is by Theodora Goss, and can be found here. (Full schedule.) Let’s hope there’s more to discuss about this one than last week’s … see you Sunday, as usual.

This is the Summer of Love

This is the Summer of Love coverAs I have noted before, it’s not that I deliberately disparage horror fiction. It’s just that in general, what disturbs me is not, it seems, what disturbs writers of horror, or what such writers think should disturb me. I think this is partly a matter of familiarity, and partly a matter of presentation. Editorial hyperbole, certainly, is never more distracting than when it’s telling you how you’re going to feel. So it’s a shock in itself when the introduction to a story such as Monica J O’Rourke’s “Cell” — “as fiercely uncompromising as anything we’ve published” — really does turn out to denote a story of comparable quality to the work of other newish horror writers such as Joe Hill and M. Rickert. In outline, “Cell” is formulaic: a second-person narrative in which “you” find yourself imprisoned in an unidentified prison, with your fellow inmates being carted off by black-robed folks one by one, or else banging their heads against the wall as a way of committing suicide. Two things make it work: that the narrative doesn’t flinch; and that it is self-interrogative. By the first I don’t mean that it’s graphic, but that it remains tense throughout, and stays true to the totalising, intimidating nature of its premise. (“You” pass in and out of sleep several times; on one such occasion, O’Rourke writes that sleep “has been searching the darkness for you” [74]. Were I to indulge in my own hyperbole, I’d suggest that the same could be said of this story.) And by self-interrogative, I mean that “Cell” foregrounds the nature of both second-person narration and horror fiction. The disjunct between the “you” of the story — a married caucasian Christian man with two children — and the “you” reading is never downplayed; indeed the central questions of the story involve guilt and empathy, how the former, including in the form of watching others suffer, engenders the latter, and what that implies for the sincerity of either emotion.

But self-awareness, sadly, is not always self-interrogation; if it were, then This is the Summer of Love, the first anthology edition of PS’s Postscripts magazine, which at least so far as I’m concerned has more than its share of mildly metafictional horror tales, would be much more to my taste than it is. (The anthology becomes the latest victim of my ongoing skirmishes with genre horror quite inadvertently: I read it because it’s advertised as simply a “new writers” special — albeit with a flexible definition of “new” that translates to “people who may have published quite a few stories that we think you won’t have heard of”.) Into the category of “middling success”, for instance, falls RB Russell’s “Literary Remains”. The setup involves an older woman recalling an episode from her youth: she was in her early twenties, living on her own for the first time, in a band, and working in a second-hand bookshop to make ends meet. One of the shop’s customers, an elderly man, develops a creepy but seemingly harmless mild obsession with the narrator, leading him to donate various books of ghost stories — some rare editions, some pulp, all heavily annotated. The narrator finds her interest sparked by the annotations, and from there she develops an appreciation of the man’s own, little-known, fiction. Then the man dies, and becomes posthumously successful, and the narrator finds herself visiting his flat to help with an assessment of his book collection for resale. The voice throughout is unfussy and well suited to the denoument; the trouble is that the denoument delivers nothing unexpected. That is to say, creepiness ensues, of a kind that may be in the narrator’s head (having been sensitised by the man’s fiction) or may be real and which, if real, constitutes sexual abuse. Russell leaves enough unstated, and introduces enough doubt about his narrator’s perceptiveness and accuracy of recall, for the story to work passably well, but there’s no denying its predictability, and predictability (as a story like Joe Hill’s “Best New Horror” demonstrates) is itself a form of comfort. Although that said, arguably the most terrifying sentence in the story is the first, with its utter dreariness: ‘When I look back on my life in Eastbourne in the late 1980s, I find it amazing that I could ever have had enough time and energy to accomplish what I did’ (129).

There’s a writer at the centre of “The Family Face” by James Cooper, too, and here predictability has produced a story so snug in the grooves of genre that it’s barely there to criticize. Said writer is English, called Michael, and heading to the country for a week’s peace, quiet and writing; on his way he meets an odd and apparently itinerant family, one of whose members specialises in carving uncannily life-like dolls. Michael declines to take one, but on arriving at his remote retreat he finds himself haunted by a child carrying a half-finished doll. There is a wearying laziness to the tale — Michael’s first encounter with the boy is described as being ‘as though somewhere, just out of sight, the trace of someone’s nightmare was being inexplicably defined’ (91), rather than in a way that might actually evoke nightmarishness — and by the time Michael is thinking that ‘he knew implicitly that there was nothing remotely derivative about his own mounting disquiet’ (95) all you can do is roll your eyes.

Speaking, as we were earlier, of bad ways to introduce stories, here’s another: “I believe new writers are forced to be copyists by publishers who accept only work of a kind that has been successfully received”, says Clive Johnson. Whatever the truth of this assertion — and I’ll be charitable and accept that some attenuated version of it is true for at least some publishers at least some of the time — it smacks of defensivness for a writer, let alone a relatively new writer, to introduce his work this way. Unlike “Cell”, “Pieland’s Dream” doesn’t quite escape its introduction, either. It begins as a sort of club story, with one member of a writing group relating his dream to the others (and in the process renders the introduction doubly redundant by putting very similar sentiments into the mouths of its characters), and develops into a deconstruction of the desire for and impossibility of originality, as another member of the writing group begins to experience the dream, before they all perform in a play that recreates a key scene from the dream; the story gradually tightens its grip on them, ultimately killing one of the group. What’s good is Johnson’s willingness to be inventive; there’s a decent dialogue-heavy opening section that juggles its characters well, an almost dialogue-free section of some intensity, and sections towards the end rendered as a transcript. What doesn’t work so well is pacing; none of the sections feels quite the right length, and Johnson doesn’t quite manage to balance the different levels at which the story is operating. And there’s the sense that even if the form is original, acknowledging the familiarity of the base tale does not, here as in “Literary Remains” and “The Family Face”, translate into a successful iteration of it.

There are fewer writers, but not much more success, in the non-horror tales. Deborah Kalin’s “The Wages of Salt”, for example, seems to me a classic case of an interesting setting coupled to under-developed story. Alessia is a student in New Persia, an intriguing if sometimes baffling city-state on a salt desert. (One source of bafflement: why is salt “white gold”, the basis of New Persia’s economy, given its apparent abundance?) She is researching the nature of the “theriomorphs”, nicely realized half-man half-animal creatures that occupy the salt plains around the city; that research ultimately leads her, and us, to a new understanding of the therimorphs, and her. And sadly, that — plus a few rather perfunctory exchanges on ethics and pragmatism, and the abstract value of knowledge versus the immediate value of coin — is it. Similarly inessential is Neil Grimmett’s “A Hard Water”, a short, mimetic piece about fishing. The water of the title is a spot that appears to be idyllic and undiscovered, but in actuality is a hard water, which is to say one that refuses to give up its fish. The narrator, obsessesed with the place, is one of only two fishermen to stick it out over the season, hoping to land an enormous carp. There is a sort of rivalry with the other fisherman; there is the suggestion that his wife is using his absences to have an affair; there is a climactic storm, and a hint of the immanent fantastic. It is perfectly reasonable and unexceptional.

Livia Llwellyn’s “Horses” is the most fully realized sf piece, although it certainly carries a horror glaze: it is the story of the nuclear apocalypse and after as experienced by an American Missile Facilities Technician called Angela Kingston. Its ambitions are good, aiming for a mix of McCarthy nihilism and Russ anger, but the end result is too messy and melodramatic to match either. Llwellyn aspires to the cinematic, and some images, such as an emaciated man emerging from a dark tunnel “as if a swimmer is breaking the surface of the ocean”, are vivid; but too many others, such as nuclear explosions on the horizon described as “voluptuous jets of lightning-shot ziggurats” (22), are confused (can you even have a jet of ziggurats?). Emotional moments, too, tend to be overly dramatic, such as Kingston’s acceptance of radiation poisoning on the grounds that when it reaches her heart, it will be surprised to find said organ already gone; or the establishing assertion that “In the next twenty-four hours, she’ll take the pill, or a bullet. Which one it will be, she cannot say” (16). Which is a shame, because in many ways Kingston’s dysfunctionality — suicidal yet driven to survive — is narratively and psychologically promising, at least until Llewellyn stoops to soften her (slightly) with maternal love. Even the lack of a happy ending can’t stop that feeling like a bit of a betrayal. But it is better, at least, than Chris Bell’s “Shem-el-Nessim”, the title of which is also the name of a magically bewitching perfume, which may be linked to visions of a mysterious beautiful woman, and which includes sentences of this kind: “They lay together in the failing light of a late afternoon, the indescribably oriental fragrance of her skin buffering the room’s airlessness” (64). I’m not convinced a strong perfume in an airless room would work quite like that, but fine, it’s magic; and the deployment of “oriental” makes me cringe; but what really gets my goat is the addition of “indescribably”. Admittedly it is an easy word to misuse, but here it is misused in a way that makes everything else about the sentence worse. There is no irony: this is entirely straight-faced exoticisation for no original, or even unoriginal but strongly felt, reason.

Leaving “Cell” aside, the most intriguing stories are those which open and close the collection. Like so many of the pieces here, they reflect on storytelling; but they do so via cinema rather than prose, which seems to work better. Unsurprisingly, given that it both closes and lends its title to the anthology, Rio Youers’ “This is the Summer of Love” is also more explicitly than most of the pieces here about love — as an emotion, and as a story humans tell to each other. Nick Gevers’ overall introduction to the anthology singles Youers out as a “major discovery”; he apparently has a novella, a novel, and some more shorter fiction forthcoming from PS. “This is the Summer of Love” doesn’t, by itself, justify this investment, but it doesn’t suggest it’s a terrible mistake, either. It is assured and occasionally bold work: the story of Terri and Billy, two teenagers obsessed with classic film who fall in together for a summer. The perspective is primarily Terri’s. The story opens with an exchange of overheard, unattributed dialogue: Terri (as it turns out) asking Billy to take her away to California. Billy says no, because “he knows he can only be her hero for as long as she needs one” (158), which may raise eyebrows. Flashback to when they met: Terri miserable, beaten by her father, convinced that love exists only in movies, that it is “all sweet fiction” (159). Suddenly Billy is there, and Terri has fallen head over heels: “Everything was gray next to him” (159). His smile is so beautiful it is “celluloid”(161) — a particularly effective choice that, I think. He is Brando, Dean, Stewart rolled into one.

The most appealing thing about “This is the Summer of Love” is its willingness to be shamelessly intense and (unlike, say, “Horses”) to recognize the absurdity of that intensity. It is at times hyperreal, a tale of young love and domestic abuse told with the fevered vision of Hollywood. The highs are very high, the lows very low; and the highs often disguise the lows, like the make-up Terri applies to turn the ghostly image in her mirror into a starlet. A melancholy ambivalence can be discerned: Hollywood saves Terri, day to day, possesses her in a sense, while Billy saves and possesses her in another; and at the end she achieves a happy ending, but it is happy in large part because she wants to be possessed, just not by her father. Billy’s opening worry, in other words, seems in no danger of passing: she’ll always want a hero.

And in Norman Prentiss’ opening tale, “In the porches of my ears”, out of what at first seems to be blandly middle-class American narration — meet Steve, who is snobbish enough about cinema to disdain the usual blockbuster fare, but thinks arthouse means “subtitles or excessive nudity” — but becomes slightly more warty and convincing, something quite clever and moving emerges. Steve recounts a trip to the cinema with his wife Helen, in which a (deliberately genericised version of a) Working Title-esque contemporary British romantic comedy is spoilt by the couple sitting in front, one of whom is blind and the other of whom narrates the events on screen. Steve and Helen’s annoyance appears to be validated when the woman, seemingly cruelly, changes the ending, relaying a bitter interpretation of the closing scenes that causes her companion to break down in tears; yet when Steve approaches the man afterwards to explain the real ending, the thanks he gets is deeply sarcastic.

There is an obvious commentary here on writing and rewriting, and the idea that different people get different things from stories (something of which I’m never so conscious as when reading work marketed as horror); and it’s deepened by a second part to the story, which establishes certain parallels between the two couples, and is explicit about the idea — the horror — that there may be “awful, unnarrated tragedy” (10) beneath the surface of a tale. Much is left unsaid (in the satisfying, rather than maddeningly oblique, sense), and any fantastic component is (appropriately) left to the reader to infer. But what makes the story work particularly well as an opening tale is its dark spin on the overall title: certainly love has a summer, but by implication it therefore also, inevitably, has an autumn and winter. To resist this, the tale suggests, is a kind of solipsism, a desire to make a story of love ours, to own it and make it relevant to us, to close the aching gap between story and life without regard for the consequences. As an introduction, it might be saying: do not try to make the stories that follow fit your love. Let them be their own thing. I might reply: if only more of them had managed to achieve such independence, or aspired to.

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