Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births, by José Pablo Iriarte

★★★★☆ Rich Characters and Interactions

(Modern Fantasy) Jamie’s a non-binary teenager in a small town, but they remember at least a dozen past lives, one of which relates to a forty-year-old murder. (7,525 words; Time: 25m)

Recommended By: JMcGregor+2

"," by (edited by John Joseph Adams), appeared in issue 92, published on .

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

Review: 2018.037 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The surface plot is simple enough: Jamie remembers Benjamin, which triggers their memory of abuse by Larry, convincing them Larry did it, not Benjamin. Jamie fools Larry into a death-bed confession, which clears Benjamin’s name.

The real pleasure of this story is the characters, though, not the plot. Jamie’s recollections of their earlier lives are sufficiently faint that Jamie seems to be almost the same as a teenager who’d simply read twelve really vivid autobiographies. Despite having lived before, Jamie has to figure out how to be a teenager all over again.

Jamie really cares about people, even if they’re a bit “judgmental.” When Jamie decides to try to trick Larry into the confession rather than seeking some sort of vengeance for Janie, it makes complete sense; that’s the kind of person Jamie is.

Alicia, Alicia’s mom, and even Benjamin come across as real people too. When Alicia shows Jamie the dress and says, “My aunt doesn’t get me,” the line is hilarious partly because, by that point in the story, we do get Alicia.

Jamie’s reaction to being “feminized” by Alicia is interesting in many ways. First, the teen-age Jamie hasn’t had that experience before and is uncomfortable, but Jamie does remember being Janie, who was a cis woman (and whom they intend to impersonate). Jamie secretly loves Alicia, and for the first time feels that attraction might be returned—in this form, anyway. When Jamie goes off at the end to confess their feelings to Alicia, we just know this is going to be complicated, and yet it represents a victory for Jamie.

Alicia’s mom comes across as trying very hard to be understanding, and even though she blows it, she knows one big thing that goes unsaid: Jamie is capable of getting her daughter pregnant. In this one brief scene she shows us that she really loves her daughter as she is, but she’s also determined to protect her.

Even in his sixties, Benjamin comes across as tough, but he’s also wise. It’s easy to see how he was Janie’s friend and likely to be Jamie’s friend too.

It’s cute that so many characters in the story are different from what they seem to be on the surface. Jamie isn’t a child. Benjamin isn’t a killer. Larry isn’t a good guy. Even Meetu is “a teddy bear.”

The author has promised to write more stories involving these characters; I’ll look forward to them.

Con: The stakes of the story are very low. Jamie doesn't change the world or even bring a killer to justice, although they do get justice for Benjamin. Jamie themself is never in any physical danger at all.

The story has a lot of loose ends in it. Jamie is bullied once, but the bullies disappear for the rest of the story. Jamie’s relationship with Alicia is about to get a lot more complicated, but we don’t see it because the story ends. And Benjamin definitely ought to sue someone over his 40 years of false imprisonment.

The bullies seem to be awfully politically correct. “I don’t care if you like guys, but why you gotta act like a girl?” Have things really changed that much?

A minor detail: the dog “Meetu” is male in the first part of the story “He’s supposed to protect me” but female later on “I don’t want to lose her.”

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José Pablo Iriarte Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Yup, great characters with very natural interactions. Look forward to more too.

    "Frank isn’t a good guy." I think you mean Larry, right?

    Meetu is now female throughout in the text, but the audio (obviously recorded before that correction) still has the first couple mentions with the wrong pronoun.