Monday, June 06, 2016

On The Brink

Downloaded Austin Bunn's debut collection of 10 short stories, 'The Brink'. Bunn's characters live in different times, mostly contemporary, but they share the same chaotic threads of emotional and literal upheaveals in their lives. (Reviews here, here and here.)

We look at how the characters hold up when everything else crumbles and they're pushed to the brink. Many stories' endings are as vague and ambiguous as you would like them to be. Some are clear-cut, but it's interesting to think about another sort of ending. The stories have that nebulous sort of quality that I'm not certain I like or go mehhh.

'Griefer' is quite sad and clever at the same time. Of a husband Josh who was caught up in the virtual world of 'Also' and its quests, and his wife Jocelyn who tried to get him out of it. She said she was "living with a teenager, which sucked, which needed to change or [they] were over." He was literally fired from his job because of too much computer time on this game. But he hasn't managed to get over this addiction. There's a female figure in the game that he talked to, Aremi. He had known Aremi since she was forty minutes old, and till she got killed by a troll in the game. At the end, he realized that Aremi was his wife's avatar.

I could hear Jocelyn on the back patio. I'd forgotten it was summer. I'd forgotten about the sun. Since Jocelyn was home, midday, it had to be a weekend. Outside, she was tending to the plants in a raised bed on our patio. She wore a straw hat, pink gloves, and a pair of cutoff jeans made from an old pari of mine, which meant, at some level, I didn't disgust her. At her side lay a small pile of weeds. She had tried so hard to make this place a place. 
"It's over," I said. "More than over." 
She removed her gloves and pulled me to her. "There's so much world left to see," she said, and let it hang there, between us, the line from the game, until I finally understood. "How about a tour?" 
I got on my knees. I didn't know the name of a single plant in the row. "Show me," I said.

I thought 'The Worst You Can Imagine Is Where This Starts' is going to be complicated. But it isn't. It's almost clear-cut, almost an anti-climax when Graham, the suburban father realized that the corpse of a baby he found in a garbage bag in his basement didn't belong to his sixteen-year old daughter Emma.

Later, that dark bloom of plastic, opening in his hands, was what he could not stop thinking of: the moment before, when he had the choice to stop, to tie it up and fling it into the trash, and never see the corpse. Inside the bag, the baby was facing down, almost deferentially, its back to him. It was a mercy to have not seen its face. The skin was still speckled with birth. Graham would remember the ashen color and the scale of it, six months along, too small to be full-term, for the rest of his godforsaken life.

'Ledge' is strange. It veers towards fantasy. It's set some time between the 15th and 17th centuries when sailing and exploration were in vogue. The Elena reached a strange horizon where humans long dead returned to life, as humans. Not zombies, not vampires, not demons, nothing malicious. The protagonist Peralonso and his crew on Elena traveled and met souls in purgatory whom they decided to receive back to the world of the living, including Peralonso's mother who hung herself when he went to sea.

When the final figure boarded the Elena, holding her head down in humility, I knew that I had called her. Those who crossed the ledge did so because we summoned them with yearning. Her shirt was soaked, a damp rag giving no warmth, though none was needed. When she looked up, I understood why the crew had mutinied: Death is the tyranny. To conquer the ledge was a conquest over this. The greed of time. 
From where I sit, I watch the crew busy with lines. Every one is now strung over the ledge. In time, each snaps taut and the deckhands pull first the longboat, then a handful of crude rafts around the ledge, heavy with people. Soon, the Elena is crowded with men and women, in all kinds of dress and colors, my mother among them. I write in the ledger, "Many new souls."

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