A Small Light and Other Stories
2022 / Sara Century / Weird Punk Books
Sara Century's presence on the internet is quite prolific and sets an example for other creators, especially those from a writer-friendly background. Before delving into her short story collection I did my research and discovered that Sara's accomplishments very much align with my own goals. I would like to write articles for sites like IGN or places like Comic Book Herald (which I wasn't familiar with before, so I appreciate her pointing me in that direction). All kinds of articles can be found written by Sara on her site, and I'm sure my readers can find something of worth. She can go from discussing the metaphor behind Marvel's mutants to expressing the importance of queer elements in horror. The link here can take you to her site: https://saracentury.com/
I am going to be discussing Sara's first published book 'A Small Light & Other Stories' which I found frightening yet endearing. This collection of short stories is only to be read by those that can handle the horror of loneliness, and the disgust of rotting corpses. There are some stories in this collection that I feel are stronger than others, and I'll be discussing why I think that is, but as I make my way through each installment in the collection I want to point out that there's a lot of work that goes into writing, and I feel that there's value in each piece. This review captures my interpretations of these stories.
Slipping But Not Falling
This opener reminds me of 'The Gas Station' a short film from John Carpenter's anthology 'Body Bags', but as the plot continues that vibe is replaced with something more... Fishy. Slipping But Not Falling is a bizarre tale of an out-of-towner finding themselves swooning after a complete stranger. The protagonist of this story is fresh out of a breakup and in need of a night out. The antagonist will do all they can to make sure their lover won't go hungry.
'"Who's thaaaaat?" she teased in a singsong voice, but inwardly she felt the same jolt of anxiety that Jen had experienced. It was the woman from last night-- the woman in the wide-brimmed hat.'
I had an enjoyable time with this opening to Sara's novel, and it sure did set a breakneck pace. The banter between Jessica, Jen, and Sasha is believable and intriguing. About halfway through this story, I wasn't sure where it was going to go, but I wanted to find out and that's what makes this a good read.
The Last Days of The Plague
Boy, I think we can all find this short story relatable. Covid-19 did a number on society and our loved ones, and if you don't blame the sickness for the looming cloud of doom, then blame the hysteria splayed over every T.V. screen. Anyway, the main character of this story lives through a plague that devastates the masses at a seemingly greater scale than Covid. The difference here is that Death is a character all their own and can be seen taking what's rightfully theirs.
'Some accepted it immediately, believing that the brutal death that surrounded us was final, definitive proof that their cold and distant God was finally paying attention, finally punishing us for our sins.'
This one is short and sweet, I especially appreciate some of the visualizations. The idea that death has some kind of rationale over how and when he takes his victims is a fun concept, like 'Final Destination'. And who doesn't want to have one last drink while the world burns?
The Hollow Bones
The Hollow Bones follows a relationship between two women, like many of Sara's stories, and we witness the degradation of this relationship due to outside influences. The main character's partner's name is Cin (which I was pronouncing as sin, and I absolutely adore the name that way). Cin works as a caretaker in a large home owned by a wealthy couple, Susan and her husband Mark, where she tends to more than enough birds. The horror creeps in when the main character catches onto the not-so-perfect life led by Susan and Mark, which is expressed through sporadic emotional outbursts. Cin finds herself stuck between their relationship and the overwhelming task of taking care of the birds.
'Wispy clouds laced themselves throughout the moody sky and the brackish ocean water sparkled in the muted light. Birds dotted the shoreline, small silhouettes against the horizon.'
This one stuck with me more than any other installment in the collection, and I think that's for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, the house with the large glass windows overlooking the coastline, and the storm of birds all offer great imagery. Secondly, there's an item in this story that I would love to temp the players of my DND party with. Lastly, the resolution of this story is drug out over a long period of time which can often hurt a story, but given the emotional impact between the protagonists, I feel that it is very much earned.
The Death of a Drop of Water
Have you ever tried to outrun something or someone in a dream? Are you familiar with a place called the upside-down? If you answered yes to both of those questions then this story will feel familiar to you.
'Tonight, they'd come inside, uninvited and unwanted, as if the heavy oak doors did not exist. She pushed all the furniture in the bedroom in front of the door, but she could still hear them outside, speaking backwards.'
The Death of A Drop of Water is a story about pain, grief, and the fear of turning out just as our parents had. Many of us can and will relate to this story but I feel it is the most forgettable in this collection. Perhaps it has to do with the vague women in white, or perhaps it's the use of the rising from the lake trope that is better portrayed in a later story. Just like it is that The Hollow Bones is the strongest story of the collection, The Death of A Drop of Water is the weakest.
A Small Light
The best part of a monster that puts you to sleep is that you get a little nap in between all the excitement. A lesbian couple set out into the forest to enjoy their vacation but are soon preyed upon by a woman made of light. The protagonists are cheerier here than in many of the other stories. They're having fun with each other and teasing, which is a nice change of pace. I think I would like this one more if it had been placed after The Last Days of The Plague, which I found to be quite hellscapey.
I fell off a bit with this story. After I read it I had put Sara's book down for awhile. I think this has mostly to do with the rising action being immediately deflated due to the monster putting the protagonist to sleep; more than once. The monster is also revealed quite early, which could have worked better with a build-up like Sara's story Slipping But Not Falling. I see what she was trying to do here, and there are aspects that I like, such as the descriptions of the woman made of light, but I just don't think that I'm as invested in the characters as the author is.
'Long, broken fingernails and blue-tinted skin. Her face appeared over me, eyes glowing, her expression hateful and otherworldly.'
Red Lips in a Blue Light
The title is simple, yet conveys the clash of colors that make up the purple hew that splashes over this short story. I find the city skyline to be a stark contrast to the intensity of a small room used for birthing. I know what I said about names and all, but here the main character is only referred to by She and it's absolutely the right decision. She is the subject of some kind of talk show, but that is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the depth of this character and her mysterious past. We follow her as she goes through a phase of rebellion, an arc that leads her back to her mother and the bleak future they both face.
'Her heart had grown only increasingly, desperately hungry for it. For anyone to smile at her the way the mother smiled at the daughter on the train.'
This is the only installment from this collection with a hetero-love story, and I don't believe that this is the reason I adore it. I understand how the hetero relationship is playing into the overarching narrative and theme of this story. There's so much ambiguity surrounding the lifestyle of the main character and I feel that this is truly what I relate to most. Sara took inspiration from David Cronenberg and George Orwell for this short, and that is right up my alley.
Is this a witch story? I think it is, and I am all about witch stories. Springtime follows Ashley as she performs a lone ceremony for her dead sister, Selena. There's really not much here, and I don't want to reveal everything, but I do want to follow up on a comment I made earlier. This story is the return of someone being placed or dragged into a lake and returning a bit differently. The Death of a Drop of Water uses a similar mechanic, and it is the stronger of the two stories, but perhaps there's a throughline that could be synced up here. I like both ideas, and I see the value in each outcome. As a fellow writer, I would like to urge Sara into finding out why there's a significance to the lake mechanic and exactly how it can become the focal point of a larger narrative.
Trying to understand someone in mourning is like trying to explain color to a blind person. We may have vague notions as to what it is they feel, but we have no sense of order they'll experience said emotions or what amplitude. Explicit is the story of someone losing their significant other and how that impacts them and the family of the person who's died. There are a lot of strong emotions felt throughout this piece.
'My words tumbled forward, cracking from the genuine pain of losing her but laced with anger older than the loss. I stumbled and staggered through, and Heather's family seemed to have softened as I spoke, even if I continues to harden to them.'
As many of my readers know I lost my best friend just over a year ago, and it still haunts me, but what's worse is seeing the depression his significant other has endured. She isn't given the respect she deserves from his family, but I don't think that's their fault either, I just think that these things are hard, and made even harder when considering everyone else's feelings atop our own. Anyway, this story allowed me a glimpse into what it is like to lose someone you've loved physically and emotionally.
The Little Things That Come and Go
Have you ever taken the little things to heart? You know, the kind of things that you're usually able to ignore, but out of the blue you want to throttle your cat for scratching at your chair. I interpreted this short story as a warning. It starts with a branch that knocks against the window, then there's a cat in the wall, and then the graffiti, and is that a body in the yard?
'When the ants don't feed on her the crows do, diving and whipping about in the wind with abandon, her fingers and toes breaking off and vanishing into their beaks as they fly away.'
There's a simple lesson to learn, but with that, the rules of this story are simple. This reads like a twisted cautionary tale, which come to think of it, aren't most cautionary tales dark in some sense or another? This story makes for a great closer to Sara's collection. It's like Sara saying despite all the horror and the despair it's important to take a step back and let the world be as it wants.
There's a balance of first and third-person perspectives throughout this collection. I'd also like to take a moment to bring attention to the editor, this book looks and reads great. There are LGBTQ+ aspects of these stories, and I understand that there are themes and ideas expressed from that angle, but I wanted to divorce myself from trying to comment on a lifestyle I'm not familiar with. Nor do I feel that these sentiments take away from the storytelling, in fact, they do the opposite and add complexity. I approached Sara’s work with the intent to immerse myself in the horror of it all. I look at each story objectively and use my knowledge of the craft to judge its effectiveness. I also realize that some of my straight-white maleness might come off as a bias, but I hope my readers understand that we as creators must put ourselves out into the world and subject ourselves to free-thinking. Sara does it, I can do it, can you?
You may be wondering by now how I got here, and it's really very simple. Twitter. Weirdpunk Books made a post looking for people that would like to receive copies of their latest published books, and I wrote them. They're a group of weirdos who focus on publishing horror that is off-kilter and for a good cause. Sam, one of the founders of Weirdpunk Books lost his wife in 2017, and ever since he has committed to keeping it alive in hopes of making her proud. From what I can tell, Sam is doing a damn good job.
I received a few books at the beginning of the year and my intent was to blast through them in no time and review them as I went, but once I started delving in I found inspiration, and so it is I started writing my own stories again. This put me way behind schedule.
I've been sitting with Sara's short stories since January, which means I've had to read, and then re-read, and then pull quotes and then email Sara and see if I could use her artwork, and then finally smash it all together into a cohesive review. And I gotta say, I'm damn proud of how this one came together and I would like to start reviewing more creations that are off the beaten path, sprouting in the gutters.
That being said I'd like to thank Weirdpunk Books for offering me this opportunity, and of course, I'd like to give a huge congratulations to Sara Century, check it out, you've got a book on shelves, you're doing it!
What's Up With Jake?
I've got a couple of poems in the process of being published, and one short story about a man trapped in a rest stop stall, so look forward to that one. I'm doing the dad stuff, always. We enjoyed free comic book day, and Ellie loves the library. Tayler and I are planning our eventual departure to Goldendale WA in the near future, and I've been tossing a blog post idea around about my history with the property in Goldendale, so if that is something that interests you, let me know. We're looking into homesteading, meaning we've got a garden started and we're doing our research. Before I go I want to remind all of you that Mother's Day is coming up quickly, so don't forget to tell your mother's that you love them... or hate them, I don't know what you guys do. HAHA!
P.S. Don't tell your mom you hate her, what's wrong with you?