The traditional fairy tale has a flat narrative and characters who tend to be types rather than fully-realized individuals: there is the King, the Witch, the Stepmother. One advantage of retelling these tales is the opportunity to add dimension. So that instead of a generic city, we find ourselves in “Enoch, the world-city that surrounds the sea on three sides like a giant omega”—not only a neat image but an example of the way the text mixes words from the Hellenic and Hebrew. Here live Zeuxis, an artist who takes aerial photographs from a sort of ultralight flier, and his wife Helen, who, like many aging couples in the tales, want to fulfill their lives with children. They perform a rite that brings them a son and a daughter. All is more or less well with them until a brute happens to see a picture of the daughter, Philomena, and immediately covets her. Before long, Zeuxis is dead, the brute has become Mena’s stepfather, and we know his intentions.
I like the twist of giving the usual stepmother a male guise. The story mingles several classic fairytale tropes, including some that go very far back indeed, but I have to say that the conclusion, which follows one well-known story almost word for word, is rather a disappointment after the creativity of the earlier elements. What I like best here, though, is the well-imagined cosmology behind this world, and the views of Zeuxis on the artist’s life:
Check out the review here. Incidentally, the dialogue about art mentioned by Ms. Tilton comes from a conversation I had with my six-year-old son, who was very angry at me last summer for selling some of my paintings. I'm still somewhat anguished about the selling process myself, and the story was written partly as a way of coping with my first public exhibition, partly as a symbolic exploration of abstraction in the visual arts, which I pontificated about in Part II of my post on The Arts of the Beautiful. Paul Klee had a lot to do with this story.“We’re conduits. When we stop the outflow, no more can flow in, and we stagnate. We die daily to live. It’s the flow that matters, not the possession of what’s not really ours anyway.”
In related news, I'm pleased to announce that my story "At the Edge of the Sea" will appear in the upcoming Beneath Ceaseless Skies year's best anthology. Stay tuned for further details.