Welcome to the first month, second story of #shortsff, a diverse short fiction online reading club. Read more about the concept here or read about the first story here. Up today is “Because I Prayed This Word” by Alex Dally MacFarlane. You can read it on Strange Horizons for free right here.
Manic Pixie Dreams Worlds, Yelling at My Bookshelves, and I will be on twitter discussing throughout the day today (Thursday). But feel free to tweet your thoughts anytime using #shortsff. Many thanks to Cecily for proposing this and choosing two gorgeous stories for our January eyes.
As I did for the first story, I will be writing this review as I read the story. I briefly wonder if the hangover I am nursing is going to make this difficult, and then I begin to read.
Because I Prayed This Word by Alex Dally MacFarlane
The style of this story feels, at the start, far more traditional than that of “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect World.” There are four female characters, all nuns, set to copying and illuminating books. I immediately find the day’s favorite metaphor: “with long dark hair flowing like a hymn.”
One woman sees a city appear. “That dawn, hurrying late to prayer, she sees it again: a door opening in the courtyard beside the pear trees. Words curl around its hinges like vines.” I love stories about words magically creating realities, and it appears that this is going to be one of those stories. HIGH FIVES.
“Part of her asserts that surely it must end, as all cities do. From its edges, do words stretch like roads into the hills?” MORE HIGH FIVES. People made of words, a city born from and of words for women who shape words. It is a beautiful image. I have been using the word beautiful a lot to describe this month’s stories, but you know what? It is the simply truth.
There are interludes in italics. During the second one, I realize I am not sure what purpose they serve. Who is this talking?
There have been several poems. Poems embedded in stories have never done much for me. I don’t resent their presence, but I do occasionally skim. These poems do not move me, which is a shame because I think part of the story’s magic relies upon them being able to do so.
“Words curling around towers. Words dipping their ends into a fountain of kissing women. Words reaching across a ceiling like an exquisite golden crack.” *sighs contentedly*
“The verses told of love. Women’s love. … They told of hair: hair unbound, hair between fingers, hair on lips, hair on the bare flesh of another woman’s arm and shoulder.” Maybe one of the most erotic descriptions I’ve ever read, and the sentence manages it without feeling like it is even trying, without being explicit in any way. Wonderful.
Oh, and it gets better. It turns out this is a love story, and where the poems could not move me, the love story did. “Alone, they unbound one another’s hair.”
What did you think?