Thursday, May 4, 2017

How Lovely Is the Silence of Growing Things, by Evan Dicken

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(Apocalypse) The world is ending, but Kate and her daughter Mel survive by hiding in the basement during the day eating peanut-butter-and-spider sandwiches. (5,000 words; Time: 16m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Average

"," by (edited by Jason Sizemore), appeared in issue 96, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: Kate and Mel are trying to get home, and they eventually succeed. Plenty of action. Plenty of tension.

The ending keys on Mel's statement about visiting Kate at the cemetery: "The greenlight was in the ground, parts of you were still there, and I just sort of filled in the rest." This tells us that Mel somehow raised Kate from the dead, and that Kate's memories are a mix of things the real Kate experienced and things that Mel herself remembers. Her motive was to bring her home, and that she succeeded at.

Con: The ending is a complete surprise. Nothing in the story up to that point prepares us for the twist. Most seriously, nothing gave us any reason to believe that Mel had that kind of power. The ending almost implies that Mel is immune to the greenlight and is actually able to use it.

Updated: Thanks to philrm (who commented here) and lurkertype (who answered my question on File770).

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9 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. It was Kate who died, not Abby. When 'the Sun hatched' and the greenlight started, it brought Kate back to life, mostly, with some help from Mel. Kate's memories are a jumble of her memories and Mel's, which is why she's confused.

    1. Does the text support that reading, though? It definitely says "I hadn't been there when Abby died, or changed, or whatever . . . I might've been on a plane coming back from a business trip." Except for the last few paragraphs, Kate definitely seems to be alive, and Abby definitely seems to be dead.

      Mel does say at the end "The greenlight was in the ground, parts of you were still there, and I just sort of filled in the rest," but that's what made me think we were meant to believe the whole thing was a hallucination. Was there any clue in the story that Mel had the power to raise the dead? Or to manipulate the greenlight in any way?

    2. To repeat some of what I said on File770, after sleeping on it, I agree that this is unquestionably the right interpretation, and I've updated the review to reflect that.

      There's still some question at the end as to whether Mel is even human anymore. "She looked the same, but deeper, as if her body had been formed by a careful weave of a [sic] branches." And what does she mean by "I'm sorry, I thought--"? Any ideas?

    3. I *think* that Mel is still human - I took the line that you quote as a reference to the gardening metaphor that runs throughout, and Kate's earlier memory of her mother's abuse, 'to shave away the parts of me that didn't fit.' I think the following line makes that clear: 'My daughter, not shaped, not cut, but grown into someone I could be proud of.' The story does seem to hint - via the squirrels Mel and Kate see earlier - that some creatures are actually immune to the greenlight, and that Mel is one of them.

      As to "I'm sorry, I thought--" My read on that (it is pretty ambiguous) is that Mel is starting to say that she thought that this would be what Kate wanted, or that Kate would be more her original self, more human, and that she stops because the look Kate gives her says that she doesn't have anything to be sorry for: Kate is home, with Abby and Mel, and that's all she could have wanted.

      This reminded me very much of Bennett North's 'Smooth Stones and Empty Bones', although I thought North's story was better constructed; the outright surrealism here kind of undercuts the emotional gut-punch that the end of North's story delivers.

  2. (Cross-posting some of my comments from File770).

    I wondered if perhaps there really was no apocalypse and that the greenlight was just part of Kate’s experience of the afterlife. In that interpretation, it only affects Kate because Kate is the only one who experiences it.

    If you look at it that way, then much of the description of what the greenlight does sounds like the way plants take over a dead body (if it isn’t embalmed and entombed). Kate is a ghost, which is why she can’t be caught in daylight, and the greenlight is trying to return her to her grave. At the end, that’s pretty much what happens, and Kate accepts it. Mel is sorry because she sees now that it couldn’t work, but Kate is proud that she got to meet her daughter and see her grown up.

    And, yes, when Mel explains that she never got to know Kate, it’s pretty clear that Kate died a long time ago. It’s just that the earlier text made it sound as though Kate had outlived Abby.

    Speaking of Abby, why don’t we see her at all? If Mel could raise Kate, why not raise Abby and reunite the two? And is there special symbolism to that “garden” of weeds that Abby kept?

    PhilRM (on File770) made the very cool observation that "Mel can’t bring Abby back because Abby isn’t actually dead: she was transformed by the greenlight into the garden. Thus at the end, Kate is literally slipping into Abby’s embrace."

    That's very beautiful, but it could also be squared with my "Kate is a green ghost" interpretation with a little creativity.

    1. I think Abby's "garden of weeds" is intended to symbolize the way Abby raised Mel: just as with her "garden", Abby didn't try to shape her, just nurtured whatever was there (in complete contrast to the way Kate's abusive mother raised her).

      As I said over on File 770, whichever way you interpret the story, the end is quite moving.

  3. I think what ultimately stops me from raising this to four stars is that from the text we're not entirely sure what happened. Did the greenlight happen to the whole world or just to Kate? Is Mel human or transhuman or a witch or what? Does that garden really represent Abby, or are we just imagining it because it makes for a pretty story?

    I do think we're determined the most reasonable interpretation of the story, and it's great to have a story that inspires so much discussion. But I think it's just too confusing to recommend it broadly.

  4. I think Kate died (of cancer?) and was buried in the cemetery before the green light, and Abby was killed or transformed by the green light. (There's a memory of being in the hospital and Kate can't remember if she was the patient or the visitor. Then pregnant Abby is holding her hair while she's sick.)

    I'm surprised I liked this even though I'm not really sure what happened.

    1. Yeah, everyone seems to have that reaction. "I'm SO confused, but it was kinda fun!" :-)