Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Short Story by Carol Emshwiller

I'm never quite sure why I love Emshwiller stories as much as I do. This one left me with a big goofy grin, but it's hard to explain exactly why. I'm confident most people will enjoy reading the story though, so go do that.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled rambling:

Lewella is an older, single woman. Her head is in the clouds most of the time, and she's more than a bit crazy. The story is narrated by her friend Mary Ellen, who describes Lewella like so:
"She sits and hums to herself. Bees and hummingbirds fly aroundher as if she's a flower and even when she's not wearing red or yellow. There's a jay that comes and hops around her feet and she feeds him crumbs. ... Once a streak of sunlight shined down sideways through the trees on to her tangled white hair and made it glow in a magical way. Not for long, though."
One day, Lewella invents an imaginary fiance, and decides they are to be married in the spring. She gets a painting of him somewhere and eventually decides to set out into the world to find him. Mary Ellen tags along on this grand quest to make sure her batty old friend doesn't get hurt.

One big effect impresses me about Emshwiller's writing in this story, her descriptions and choice of details. The two old women, picking vegetables in their village seem to inhabit an idyllic fantasy land. As they wander further from home, the modern world breaks in. Hummingbirds and lace collars give way to bus fares and dollar amounts, and eventually Wal-Mart and park benches. This effect climaxes along with the climax of the story itself, with vines, trees, and other naturalistic descriptions intruding on a modern bar room. I also particularly enjoyed the odd symmetry of the last lines.

The story has fantastical descriptions, and perhaps Lewella is supremely lucky or implied to innocently cause things to work out for her, but this is magical realism with only the faintest tinge of fantasy. I think Emshwiller may write fantasy in the same way Neal Stephenson always writes science fiction: "it's an attitude."

I don't think I'd have enjoyed a story with this plot written by any writer besides Emshwiller, but she makes it sing.

4 lace collars out of 5.

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