A new entry in my nearly-weekly Strange Horizons retrospective:
- “The Fountain and the Shoe Store,” by Paul Steven Marino
- A hilarious and heartbreaking story about grief, loss, art, responsibility, atonement, and fantastical architecture. (Published in 2011.) (5,200 words.)
“This place can take away any disease out there for an hour at a time,” I said. “People are going to keep coming, press conference or no press conference.”
“I don't know,” he said. “There's a county fair over in Moretown right now that's got a seven-headed cow.”
“Can their seven-headed cow bring back the dead?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “but can your archway moo all the parts of the Ninth Symphony?”
(See also the full list of Flashback stories.)
(I'm still behind on posting Flashback stories, but if all goes well, I'll catch up next week.)
Possibly this is only because I've been reading Lafferty recently, but this story is feeling kind of Laffertyesque to me at the moment. Something about the deadpan matter-of-fact tone combined with the fantastical aspects, and the refusal to explain any of the fantastical parts.
Anyway, this is another story that makes me both laugh out loud and cry. And I love that matter-of-fact narrative voice. And I like that the protagonist is, in his own way, trying to atone for what he did, but that Mary doesn't forgive him, and he doesn't try to push her to do so. And I like that (as with the previous Flashback story) the protagonist has a penchant for doing things in perhaps unnecessarily complicated ways.
But the thing I love most about this story is the way that it's constructed, particularly the bits that don't look like they're a big deal until they pay off devastatingly later. Like the bit where the protagonist doesn't tell us the name he originally wanted for the Fountain, even suggests he doesn't remember what he said, and we get this line in response:
And from the far wings of the room, somebody else asked, “Who the hell is Jack?”
Which just looks like a throwaway mildly puzzling line, until we find out later that Jack is the dead kid, and then we find out that the name the protagonist had originally wanted was Jack's Door, and that throws the whole story up to that point into a different light. And then the same thing happens with the shoe store—the apparently inconsequential silly thing at the beginning that turns out to be at the emotional heart of the story at the end. Good stuff.