Friday, January 21, 2011
Short Story by Shannon Celebi
Elma is a black girl working as a nurse/servant for an old white man in the 1920's (or so) South. Mr. Haggle is bedridden and mute since a stroke, but he still laughs and pees on Elma. Mrs. Haggle beats her, and their son regularly rapes her. To top it all off, Elma is haunted by the ghost of her mother. This is the story of how she finally has had enough and snaps. Also how she uncovers a whole bunch of family secrets.
You're never really sure how in-control Elma really is, until the end, but you can vaguely feel her slipping, especially any of her thoughts involving power. I like all the ghosts, and the seeming ghostly chain-reaction, set off by Mama at the beginning, where Elma is increasingly more and more haunted. You really get a feel for everything spiraling out of control. Which is why I'm so disappointed by the supernatural ending. Don't get me wrong, Celebi has created a great (if hard to understand motivationally) villain by the end of the story, and the smaller ghost and charm level supernatural elements were entirely necessary. But why not leave it at that, with the possibility of interpreting the whole things as psychosis + superstition, rather than firmly committing to the supernatural?
That said, the ending is actually pretty good, Elma's emotions are perfectly described, you really feel for her, and the final line about love is great. Overall, Elma is an extremely well-drawn character, and the Southern Gothic setting is pretty well done too. I just wish we'd learned a bit more about Regina. 4 jars of blood-preserves out of 5.