Interfictions Reviews – "A Drop of Raspberry"

“A Drop of Raspberry”
Csilla Kleinheincz
translated from the Hungarian by Noémi Szelényi

This is a style of story I was expecting to make its way into the Interstitial fold (as discussed in the “— House” thread): the inanimate narrator story, ie one which uses an anthropomorphic personification as its main character. I think the proliferation of this style may be an offshoot of the recent “deity as main character in modern setting” trend, following Gaiman, which now is pretty much played out. Most often such stories deal in one way or another with the theme of the human condition evaluated from distance, “I am not what they are, thus I understand better than they do how great and terrible they have it.” The successful inanimate-narrator tales I’ve seen treat with this same theme, but without having to concern themselves with addressing the monstrous, limelight-stealing subjects of myth and belief. Unless they want to. Actually, in that respect, I might almost call it a magic realist tactic.

In “A Drop of Raspberry”, a semi-sentient lake saves a grieving man from suicide by drowning. They strike up a friendship, which wobbles precariously on the edge of forbidden romance and ends bittersweet. Ms. Kleinheincz gives us a real, accessible notion of what it feels like to be a lake, using weird bits of synesthesia to convey that sense of difference, of alienness, but not getting so wrapped up in it as to deprive us of emotional attachment to what is at its heart a subtle, poignant tragedy of star-crossed lovers. The notion of the interstitial comes into play here in the space between humanity and… lakeness. The lake can cross over for awhile, inhabit a human body, comprehend the human perspective, or attempt to, but when winter rolls around, she’s going to freeze again. It works almost as a microcosmic, humanist retelling of the life of Christ.

I suspect there is something in the Hungarian title that gets lost in the translation—something about raspberries being both tart and sweet, like our own metaphor about lemons and lemonade. Of course I do not read Hungarian.

Why I Love and Hate the Interstitial Arts Society and Everything It Stands For

I’ve had a funny relationship with the Interfictions anthology. I mean, I’m in it. I’ve been writing its name on my cover letters since last fall, like I’m proud of it. I am proud of it. My first pro sale. It has probably shaped my perceptions of myself and the industry more than any other sale I’ve had or ever will have.

But I’ve also been in a position–as occasional fly-on-wall at Small Beer Press–to sit objectively by and watch the Interfictions Anthology go through the iterations leading to its release (which happens April 30th). I saw the stories they bought and knew the list of authors ages ago. I talked with Delia Sherman, one of the editors, about the breadth of submissions they’d received, and the hard time they had paring down to only 19. I saw the cover art when they picked it.

[A diorama of painted and wallpapered wood, nine compartments arranged in a 3x3 square to make the shape of a paned window, each pane depicting a different scene]

My first reaction to the art was not a positive one. Before anything else, and over everything else, I saw the frame. Nine little walled-in compartments. None of them with doors. What kind of bridging of the gaps was that? A window-shaped thing, made out of windowless, inescapable boxes. And that shadowy shape behind the curtains in the center room? It’s a camera–lens aimed right at our eye.

The whole thing seems perfectly–maybe even intentionally–tailored to call attention to the thing that is my biggest problem with the whole Interstitial Arts movement: hypocrisy.

From the IAF mission statement:

What is Interstitial Art? It is art made in the interstices between genres and categories. It is art that flourishes in the borderlands between different disciplines, mediums, and cultures. It is art that crosses borders, made by artists who refuse to be constrained by category labels.

They want to encourage art that defies definition. Awesome. Noble cause. But the first thing they do to achieve that is bring in a truckload of concrete pilings and cordon off a new term with a new definition. How the divil does one transcend barriers by throwing barriers up?

Say I write a story that just barely borders on fantasy, because I want to, because that’s where I find all the really interesting stuff happening in my head. Because I figure hell, if I can’t sell it to the intellectuals, there’s always the geeks. But no! Such is not to be. Along comes big ole grumpy ogre Slipstream, and he says “No! You get over here. You don’t belong with them academic elites! And you’re not going to be hanging around with no popular fiction neither, not if I gets any say.” But oh, ole Slipstream better look out, ’cause what’s that silhouette I see on the horizon? It’s Interstitiality! Run? Run for your lives!

And who knows what even more titanic blanket term is on its way? Doesn’t it all just feel like a big meaningless mess of pseudointellectual, egomaniacal, obfuscated, genre-crashing one-upmanship? I feel like I’m caught in some revisionist mockery of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. All this, just to keep me from crossing a bridge!

Since first looking at the cover art, however, I have had the opportunity both to mull a bit and to actually read some of the fictions which our editors have selected as their chosen banner-bearers for the interstitial. And one interesting and unifying thing about the selection is that many of them do seem to be just that–banner-bearers, space-shapers, writings that are both self-aware and aware of the borders they create, cross, break and recross in the course of their execution. Plus, I read the editors’ afterword, and Heinz Insu Fenkl’s foreword.

And now I look at the art again, and it isn’t the walls between the frames that strike me, but a sense of the artist’s awareness of those frames, and her desire to make me aware of them.

Look at the anthology from the editor’s point of view. Given the intrinsic hypocrisy of the term they are trying to define, the avowed disdain for definitions of the society they represent, their task seems practically impossible: to pick out a heap of stories that represent not only the meaning of interstitiality but its ideals, to choose them in such a way that they will be readable and entertaining enough to allow Interfictions to compete with its now-venerable predecessor, Polyphony. Considering the thing from that perspective, what they’ve done actually begins to seem pretty clever. I’m not finished reading yet, but it looks as though at least a plurality of these stories will turn out to be works that actually address themselves to the question: what is interstitiality, what does it mean to exist between cracks and in gaps? However ineffectual the Interstitial Arts Society has been at sketching a purpose and an excuse for its own existence, no matter how many labyrinthine straw walls the jacket blurb and promo material for this anthology manage to set up and blow down in the course of building their brick courtyard in the middle, in the end it’s going to be the stories they enclose that determine their success. What they’ve done is pick stories capable of poking holes even through brick–stories that poke fun at the whole Interstitial conceit even as they exemplify it. Whether the authors meant these stories to be part of some grand and complicated definition of “interstitial” (I know I didn’t), the editors, in the grand, flawed tradition of postmodern criticism, have made them part of it.

I read over the last few sentences I’ve written and get a rather sickly-sweet, gushy feeling. Which wasn’t my intention–I’m not at all ecstatic about this whole interstitiality thing, and I am even less interested in letting my writing get walled into their silly category than Ms. Goss and Ms. Sherman and their Society claim to be.

But this experience has been, as much as anything else, a lesson in not reading books by their covers. So in hopes of impressing that same lesson on the rest of you, I think the best way of conveying the evolution of my opinion about this is to go through and show you my reactions, Saunsaucie-style, as I attempt to judge this book by its contents. In other words, over the twenty-one days remaining until the official release of Interfictions, I’m going to try to review one story a day.

Starting tomorrow.

Hallucinations of the Hand of God

I was initially skeptical about the whole crazy viral-apocalyptic-subversive-time-travel-guerilla marketing for Year Zero, Nine Inch Nails’ upcoming concept album. Their previous album was just ok, rehashing some riffs and some themes from the glorious The Fragile; and ole Trent Reznor, formerly the wiry ball-lightning with its finger on the jugular pulse of the MTV teenager’s cathartic rage, was assessed in his burly, bald new incarnation by certain critics (myself included) to have retreated from relevance into his own head. This new campaign of hidden messages left on USB drives in concert venue bathrooms was definitely a new direction, but it struck me as being a little too derivative of LOST’s vast peripheral storyline of fake tv ads, fake websites and lowbrow book tie-ins, not to mention older examples of the same thing going back through X-Files and Twin Peaks to Lovecraft and Borges. I just didn’t think poor Trent could pull it off.

Then I found the mp3 for My Violent Heart. I thrashed around my office a bit–at least, to the degree that my headphone tether would allow–and after that I started paying a little closer attention. By the time I came across artisresistance.com, I realized Trent really has an agenda going here, and he (and his marketing crew) have put a hell of a lot of effort into building that agenda into something with a fair amount of depth and complexity, something that will suck in fans, challenge them to think and work together, unify them, and at the same time maybe direct all their cathartic rage at something real.

I can’t believe how deep some of these clues have been hidden, and people find them anyway. Coded spectrograms tacked onto the ends of mp3s. Obscure literary and biblical references. Even a bit of actual, low-grade hacking.

The premise of this whole fragmented, chaotic narrative is some kind of temporal anomaly that has allowed pieces of data from a seriously fucked-up, drug-addled, post-apocalyptic future to filter backwards into the present day, forming a sort of parallel timeline which just happens to work as a disturbing, angry, empowering parable for our own. Trent is playing all sides here: terrorist, fanatic, warmonger, conscientious objecter, social revolutionary, spiritual leader. And he’s doing it in such a way that he doesn’t have to be some incredible storyteller–he just gives us the fragments, and lets our own socially-ingrained tendencies to narrative thread them all together for him.

So now I’m hooked. They just put the whole album up for streaming over at yearzero.nin.com. I’ve listened to it twice straight through, and I’m starting on a third.

A Circular Earthwork

Got this off Google Earth. It’s a block of undeveloped land in Yorktown, Indiana. The road you can see just to the north is Indiana State Highway 32. Cornfields surround it on all four sides, to the degree that it probably doesn’t look like much from the highway–there’s even enough corn between it and the road that the slated highway widening project probably won’t make a difference. But damn, you look at it from a couple dozen miles overhead, and that near-perfect circular feature in its center becomes pretty striking, wouldn’t you say?

What is that circular feature, you ask?

According to this article, some archaeologists at nearby Ball State Univerity believe it to be a thousand year-old artifact of the Hopewell mound-building culture, whose other monumental works can be found at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Mounds State Park, and who knows how many other sites across the eastern plains states.

Now, the reason these archaeologists thus far only believe this circular feature to belong to the Hopewell culture is that a series of consecutive owners of the piece of land depicted above have refused to allow them access. Go look at it again. In fact, go find it on Google Earth. It’s at 40 degrees, 10′ 50″ North, 85 degrees, 28′ 10″ West. The archaeologist quoted in the article even encourages us to do so, I imagine in hopes that a whole bunch of scientifically-minded souls will become impressed as to its significance and put pressure on whoever does own the land to let the archaeologists in, let them cut out a fat cross-section of the circle and go sifting through it for potsherds until they have utterly deprived it of every possible fragment of mystery or mysticism.

Normally, I am such a scientifically-minded person. But I have to admit I am just too impressed with the efforts of the consecutive series of owners… heck, you might even call them a little home-grown conspiracy… who really seem to have put a good deal of forethought and effort into keeping that ring safe and undisturbed.

When you’ve had a good eyeful of the earthwork itself on Google Earth, take a bit of a zoom out. You’ll see cornfields, housing developments, parking lots. What looks like a golf course to the north.

That little square of wooded land is about the about the only patch of wilderness anywhere around.

So I’m siding with the conspiracy.