Monday, September 11, 2017

Thompson (ed.), SonofaWitch (2017)

Trysh Thompson (ed.), SonofaWitch!. World Weaver Press, 2017. Pp. 161. ISBN 978-0998702230. $11.95.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

SonofaWitch! is a delightful read. It is not serious, although the situations in which the titular witches manage to land themselves are, and although the reader comes very quickly to appreciate the witches’ qualities and even possibly identify with them somewhat, there are no instances of genuine horror to keep one awake at night, twitching at every creak on the staircase and groan of the door. However, the stories in this collection are craftily written, and there is delight for those who appreciate the writer’s craft, and possibly—although this reviewer would not know from personal experience—there may be allusions to conventions or recurring motifs from the world of covens.

Most of the protagonists are women—two out of the six are men—and all but one of the authors are women as well. I don’t know whether this reflects the gender bias or preference of the Wicca or more broadly witchcraft movement in social reality or in literary convention, but in some ways reading the book feels something like a cross between Sex and the City and Bewitched, again, at least to this reviewer.

There are a number of delicate touches that give life and specificity to the second story, Sara Dobie Bauer’s “The Trouble with Love Spells.” One of these is that the barista who is the object of the narrator’s “unrequited attention” is reading a well-worn paperback of an Elmore Leonard novel. Besides the fact that this is probably a used book picked up at a second-hand book store, the fact that the barista is reading an Elmore Leonard novel probably indicates that he likes his mysteries “lite” and with action as smooth as that late author’s plots tend to be. I don’t know whether there is an implicit judgment of the character in this detail, but in any case it shows the consciousness of the narrator about details that may prove significant upon further exploration. The narrator here is part of an urban coven, and her confidant and fellow coven member acts as a foil for the narrator’s infatuation and as a backup for when her love spell… goes wrong, as it must.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s “Good Spell Gone Bug” doesn’t have a love interest at its heart, but plays with a similarly not completely experienced witch in her attempt to move a tattoo from an ordinarily covered spot on her body to another living being. The problem that arises is that her magically illiterate and socially insensitive neighbor walks in on her unannounced while she is casting a spell, and this intrusion wreaks havoc with the spell in an oddly surreal way; the result is just the first step in the witch’s discovery of something much more momentous going on, and in the end she winds up solving not only her own problem but also a much larger problem for another person as well as another entity of another order of being. The social context in “Good Spell Gone Bug” is one where magic is an accepted part of ordinary reality, to the extent that even the police department has a special unit to deal with magical disruptions.

“All the Petty Curses” by Lissa Marie Redmond is obviously intertextual; the title’s allusion to Cormac McCarthy’s novel All the Pretty Little Horses signals that to the reader immediately. However, the majority of the intertextuality is not to modern novels but to fairy tales; the narrator’s café—again, a café, as in “The Trouble with Love Spells,” but this time from the point of view of the owner/barista—acts as a meeting-place for fairy-tale characters. These are in many cases modernized and in an ironic way, as in Hans and Greta, where Hans eats next to nothing but is grossly obese despite that, and Greta eats voraciously but is all skin and bones. The problem arises when the barista is called upon by Little Red Riding-Hood to rid her of the Wolf, a womanizer who has been stalking her. As often happens in this collection, the protagonist is beyond his magical abilities here and has to call on… Someone Else with greater power and experience.

“The Perfect Mate Fiasco” by Frances Pauli is another love-spell-gone-wrong story, and the reader can see it coming from the beginning, but the real amusement is in the series of complications that arise from the mistake. As in “The Trouble with Love Spells,” the protagonist is a member of a coven and has a best friend who is also a witch and who helps out when things go awry. There is (spoiler alert!) a marvelous evocation of a golden retriever over the course of the story.

Mara Malins’s “A Matter of Perspective” is set in a school of Magick, which is a trope familiar not only to fans of Harry Potter but also Ursula K. Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea, and undoubtedly many other conventional educational settings adapted to teaching paranormal powers. The phenomenon of the student who is so confident because he is the teacher’s pet and the complement—the student who constantly draws the teacher’s ire because of his bumbling—is probably familiar to most of us from experience, but here Malins puts it in the context of a classroom suspiciously like a chemistry class I took in high school. The tension is realistically depicted in the unreal setting, and the ultimate reversal is both a surprise and satisfying.

Adam Millard’s “A Poppet Named Dave” is another variation on the witch-in-training trying her hand at a spell beyond her experience to attract—rather, command—the attention of the obscure object of her desire. In this case, the friend is not someone on the same level, but a highly experienced witch who is the protagonist’s math teacher during the day, and her landlady at night. While the term “mathemagician” is not used, as the mathematics teacher is not a witch in any public sense, the existence of magic seems to be accepted but not really commonly known in the society, which has at least one magical goods store, run by a self-styled shaman with a questionable taste in bathrobes.

This collection is suitable as YA fiction, but also amusing for older adults looking for well-crafted but not particularly heavy reading.

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