Looks: Broken Time Blues is a subtly shiny paperback with art from Galen Dara (cover), Evan Jensen (interior) and again, the delightful Galen Dara (also interior.) The interior design was done by Janice Blaine; I mention this because I rarely want to marry the interior design of a book. Though not legal nor possible, I’d give it thought in this case.
The interior art is all in black and white. My particular favorites of the interior art was for Semele’s Daughter by John Remy, The Automatic City by Morgan Dempsey, and Nor the Moonlight by Andrew Penn Romine. The rest of the illustrations are similarly appropriate and skillfully done.
I usually try to cherry-pick for anthology reviews, but Gates and Holt made that essentially impossible. I’d like to note that Jaym Gates and Erika Holt can do something I rarely see well executed by anthologies. It’s good, from start to finish. The themes are just dissimilar enough that even the painful reads act as counterbalances to the others, and the anthology itself shows not only excellent writing, but talented editing. 154 pages seems like a tragically short number for such a satisfying read.
The anthology opens with The Sharing, by James Sutter. The story has a bleak cold open, and the voice he chose to write it with is appropriate to both time and setting. The speculative element included feels neither forced or out of place. I’d like to note that I’ve been following Sutter across anthologies and various projects, and I’ve been impressed by the development of Sutter’s writing.
Frank Ard’s Chickadee deserves mention because it may be weirdest story I have read in the past few years. I say this having survived college writing workshops and over a year as a slush reader for two different publishing houses. Ard does a lovely job of making a dark tale of foibles, family and greed absolutely fucking surreal with his choice of speculative element.
John Remy’s Semele’s Daughter makes me hopeful that he’ll revisit his particularly violent, anti-witch, magic infused Prohibition setting, where sorcerers die in Sing Sing and gin joints exist in a cloud of magic. The lesbian relationship at the core of the story is worth noting for believability and poignancy. Kingston and Lily love each other, deeply, and are up to their fucking eyes in danger. The horror of the story is as much about their shared peril as it is the setting.
Morgan Dempsey’s The Automatic City is right on their heels; unlike the trio before it, Dempsey’s story is an intensely uncomfortable read, at least in part due to the somewhat incomprehensible nightmare the protagonist is dealing with. It’s deftly rendered, if an endurance trial to finish. Barbara Krasnoff’s Button Up Your Overcoat is a well-executed story, but the speculative elements when mixed together make the overall quality of the story suffer. As a reader, I’m not left with just enough questions, but one too many. Still, the ending has an element of sweetness that tempers the cluttered plot turn.
Andrew Penn Romine’s Nor the Moonlight starts with a punch; the speculative element is there in the first paragraph. In an all too brief turn of pages people die, two men lose the same bright and shining love, and dreams end. Jack and the Wise Birds, by Lucia Starkey, has the folksy tone of any good Americana tale, but the subject matter is a painful reminder that even in folktales, children are abused and horrible things happen. Like any good fairy tale, the end is one of implication: perhaps monsters really can be escaped.
Madonna and Child, in Jade is Amanda C. Davis attempting to break the speed of plot. The attention to past language and slang is dutiful, the action tightly paced, and the ending is as touching as it is horrifying. Der Graue Engel, from Jack Graham, is the third story I can point to in the anthology with at least one queer protagonist, which makes this queer English major’s heart sing. I’m hoping we see more of Graham, now that his first fiction sale has him off to such a lovely start.
Ari Marmell’s The Purloined Ledger is a magic-stained visit to the Great Depression, where Chicago streets are walked by a man packing a wand as well as mobsters with guns. If Marmell revisits this setting, I will gleefully read every word. Ryan McFadden’s Fight Night is the literary equivalent of being punch-drunk, if filtered through the brain of David Lynch. It’s bizarre, but good. I’m willing to accept I ended the story with no clearer an idea of what the fuck is going on then I did on the first page.
Broken Time Blues ends with A Drink for Teddy Ford, by Robert Jackson Bennett. It’s as bitter as the garnish on Teddy’s drink, and a suiting end to the anthology, no matter how sad the story got. And I can tell you that story got pretty fucking sad.