Monday, September 10, 2018

A Siren’s Cry Is a Song of Sorrow, by Stina Leicht

★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended

(Horror) In 1975 Texas, a middle-school girl and her sister want to escape their miserable lives by turning into mermaids. (7,642 words; Time: 25m)

"A Siren’s Cry Is a Song of Sorrow," by (edited by Jason Sizemore), appeared in issue 112, published on .

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

Review: 2018.521 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Whether she drowns, is eaten by a shark, or really does become a mermaid, Jill makes her escape at the end.

Con: Jill’s situation is pitiable, but it doesn’t make for a great story. Let’s recap:
  • Her fundamentalist parents force her into a very narrow model of what it means to be a woman.
  • But they don’t make the slightest effort to protect her from various kinds of abuse. And somehow they never tell her anything about telling boys “no.”
  • She loses her best friend when she gets pregnant and goes to a different school.
  • The boys at school both tease her for being ugly and hit on her sexually.
  • The boy she dates puts his hands inside her dress and simply doesn’t care when she’s upset about it.
  • Her own father abuses her sexually.
  • Finally, her own sister is abducted by a stranger in broad daylight and murdered. (And her parents blame Jill for it.) 
Somewhere in the process, my suspension of disbelief failed and never recovered. Yes, things like this have happened to people, but for all of this to happen to the same person was stretching it too far. Instead of facing a cardboard villain, she's got a whole cardboard universe conspiring against her!

Through all of this, she never does anything to defend herself—not even to the extent of asking anyone for help or screaming or even just saying “no.” The only time she shares her problems with an adult, she rejects their offer for help and runs away. Again, this may be realistic for some people, but that doesn't matter. A helpless protagonist makes for an unsatisfying story.

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Stina Leicht Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I'm probably going to be stealing or varying "cardboard universe" occasionally from now on. Good stuff, and exactly right.

    1. David Brin has complained about authors who're let the awful universe create all the conflict in the story. He was talking about post-apocalypse stories, but I think the same principle applies.