Interfictions 2 is an anthology of “interstitial” writing: writing that does not conform to typical genre expectations, writing that breaks, transcends, ignores, crosses boundaries. I love the idea of this. Setting boundaries around art is, surely, missing the point of art, which is to express oneself and one’s relationship with the world, and how can we put that in boxes? The problem with Interfictions 2 is that it seems to be aching to showcase the kind of fascinating fiction you will never find elsewhere, and that simply isn’t the case; it is, instead, disappointingly mediocre.
This is not true of every story. The short opener, Jeffrey Ford’s “The War Between Heaven and Hell Wallpaper”, is pleasantly strange: an apparently autobiographical account of a weird pre-sleep vision of his wallpaper coming to life followed by a dream inspired by that vision and by events several days earlier. It simultaneously captures the odd illogic of dreams and the quite logical way in which events and dreams connect.
My favourite in the anthology is Carlos Hernandez’ “The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria”, which is mostly a flashback to a young Cuban boy living in the USA who learns about Santeria in order to help his father find love again after the death of his mother. Complicating matters is the fact that his mother occasionally comes back from the dead to talk to him and his father. The story unapologetically contains conversations in Spanish and, as the title suggests, it delves into the difficulties of being a Cuban in the USA. I’m close to saying it’s worth buying the anthology for.
It is followed by Lavie Tidhar’s “Shoes”, which is a meandering recollection of a man being stolen from Vanuatu to work in Australia. While not as engaging as Hernandez’ story, it casts a light on a part of the world and an ugly part of its history that we in the West would rather not consider. Brian Francis Slattery’s “Interviews After the Revolution” then examines the disconnect between Western developers in poorer nations and the people of those nations: the former want profit and see themselves as bringing something good to this nation (while not actually, you know, employing the local people or in any sizeable way benefiting the local economy), the latter want to live well and change their home for the better and view the Western development as an odd intrusion.
Interfictions 2 pleasantly surprised me by having quite a few science fiction stories in it, with my favourite being Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “The Score”, a collection of emails, interviews, news clippings and more that detail the development of conspiracy theories and attempts to tell the truth surrounding the suspicious death of a protestor in police custody in New York. It goes into the near-future, where the world has taken an unsurprising turn for the worse – and people are still trying to muddle through and understand the truth. The story also takes a surprising turn, in having the friend of the dead protestor form an odd but ultimately very friendly relationship with the conspiracy theorist who would usually be dismissed as being too “nutty” to take seriously. Johnson makes this story – familiar to anyone who follows the news – a very human, personal one, while casting a critical eye on the current state of world politics.
The rest of the stories did not engage me as much as these.
Some actively pissed me off. There’s a peculiar number of stories dealing with the loss of a family member or friend and quite a few of these are stories about dead women. This does not inherently bother me (see Hernandez’ story, although that’s helped by the mother not being entirely dead), but sometimes it does. Take, for example, William Alexander’s “After Verona”. It is about a young man dealing with the loss of his friend, Verona, who was beaten to death in her apartment. It is a story about a woman’s violent death that is actually about a man’s pain. Given the way our media and culture dismisses and distances itself from female narratives in these contexts, this story made me really uncomfortable: it takes the focus away from Verona, just like almost every story of a woman’s violent death.
Another story about a woman’s death is Will Ludwigsen’s “Remembrance is Something Like a House”, about a house that heaves itself up and walks across the USA to tell the truth to its former inhabitants about the woman who died in their house. I’m going to spoil the ending here: the man who was arrested, imprisoned and executed for killing the girl was innocent, because the girl actually died by accident. What makes me hate this story is that the man is a Polish immigrant. The revelation of the truth is at the very end: plot twist! I think the house’s guilt is meant to stand in for the guilt we should feel for quickly jumping to conclusions about immigrants (and it is implied that the police did just that), but it doesn’t work for me.
What both stories do that bothers me is attempt to make good points – it is bad that women are beaten to death! it is bad that immigrants are too quickly accused of crimes they didn’t commit! – but they do it by killing those people, by doing the very negative thing they are speaking out about in order to make their point. (It also bothers me that William Alexander is not a woman and, to my knowledge, Will Ludwigsen is not Polish.) I don’t know. Stories can do this well, but, thinking about it, they are stories about the people who are being oppressed or discriminated against, while these two are about the man and the house. Maybe that’s the difference: that when writing about injustices to people, writers need to be telling those people’s stories directly, not telling them via a privileged or non-involved party. Compare to Hernandez’ story, which is from the Cuban boy’s perspective. Compare Slattery’s, which has interviews with the Westerners (mostly to show how ridiculous they are) and with the local people.
Then we get to M Rickert’s “Beautiful Feast”, which is one of those ~delightful~ American perspectives on the Vietnam War: it was bad, so bad, for the Americans and maybe a little bit for the Vietnamese people but mostly for the Americans. Wait, I don’t mean delightful. I meant racist, vile, imperialist.
Scanning the Table of Contents, I remember the other stories as being mostly mediocre. Some were a bit interesting: Shira Lipkin’s “Valentines” is about navigating the disjointed memory loss associated with epilepsy, Elizabeth Ziemska’s “Count Poniatowski and the Beautiful Chicken” is about a Polish man time-travelling in an attempt to stop the rise of Nazi Germany and the death of his family, Lionel Davoust “L’Ile Close” is a really awesome look at how the tales of Arthur repeat themselves, over and over, right until the end which made my eyes roll out of my face (THE DEVIIIIL is not a good twist, just saying). The others, however, were often a chore to read.
Is this interstitial fiction? At the end of it, I don’t really know. Certainly there is a blending of literary and genre flavours to the stories, as well as a blending of forms. Certainly there are tales of people who are themselves liminal and boundary-crossers. I do feel that there is more to be examined here – hopefully, with a better selection of stories. As a collection of fiction, Interfictions 2 has a few gems but largely stumbles and falls into mediocrity. (I did like how the stories all seem to dovetail into one another, though. That’s some nice anthologising.)