Thursday, 8 September 2016

'The Wife's Lament'

This story in Lynda E. Rucker's new collection first appeared in ST, and therefore it must be good. Well of course I liked it, and read it a few times as an editor. Re-reading it in its proper place, between hard covers amid other Rucker stories, I can now appreciate it as part of her distinctive oeuvre. She has written many tales of lonely, slightly confused women who go on some kind of quest or adventure to seek happiness or enlightenment, only to find that what they seek is illusory, dangerous, or both.

In this case Penny, a 22-year-old American, marries an older Englishman who she meets while working in a hotel bar in Seattle. She moves to Birmingham, which I failed to notice is placed in the North of England by the author. Perhaps I deliberately left that in to underline how much of a fish out of water Penny is in the UK? Gosh, wasn't I brilliant... Ahem. The point is that a young, somewhat vulnerable woman finds himself increasingly isolated and despairing as she tries to make sense of a new life in a far from warm and friendly country.

The story's title comes from an Anglo-Saxon poem close to the author's heart. The conceit involves an excursion into a wood (a familiar way to both lose and find yourself in poetry), where Penny discovers an ancient item of jewellery. Her plight in a bleak, unfriendly modern city parallels that of a woman from England's younger days and, by extension, all women adrift in a world not made with them in mind. Misfits feature heavily in weird fiction, but Lynda Rucker's are some of the best, because they are the most immediately and painfully human.

Another story reviewed tomorrow!

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