I read for escapism. I also play video games, board games, and watch movies for the same thing but seeing as I’m a writer and this is a writing site. . . .
A few close people who are involved in mental health work or studying psychology tell me it’s probably not the best thing, and then I smile, nod, say probably not, and go right back to doing it. Escapism is defined as: the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy. Two points I want to make up front – first, I’d like to remove the word unpleasant from that definition. Life is good. There are bad days and there are good days. Great times and awful times. But overall I am fortunate enough to say that life is good. That doesn’t mean I don’t need a break every once and awhile.
The second thing is how I personally measure the escapism effectiveness of a book. It’s not by how engrossed or obsessed I am while reading it; it’s how difficult it is to let the world go once I’m done and the journey is over (there are television series I have procrastinated finishing because I can’t bear to say goodbye to them, but that’s for another therapist session). If my brain continually returns to the novel and the people and places that exist within its pages days, weeks, or even months in rare occasions, then it aces the Escapism Effectiveness test.
So, the spectrum. Keep in mind that this isn’t a whole look at the quality of a book or short story that I’ve read. It is only one factor adding to how I felt about a piece. A novel could be on the bottom end of escapism spectrum but still be an amazing book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
2. Bare-minimum escapism achieved. No afterthought once the piece was finished.
3. The world was absorbent. The few hours after finishing it, I still thought about a character or two, a particular setting, or something that happened.
5. Following the final page turn comes a momentary reflection. The empty wall stare while everything falls into place and your brain continues to process. Characters exist for a few days after and, if it’s a standalone piece, there exists a desire to return despite not being able to.
7. Questions linger. For days, weeks, or even longer. The world punctured your skull and seeped into the crevices deep inside your brain. The desire to know more, become more embedded in the story burns. Character’s still exist long after the book is finished. The final setting is engraved in your psyche and you wish more than anything you were still there for just a little longer. You miss your friends. Escapism achieved.
It’s been several days, and I still feel the mystery behind famed director Stanislas Cordova—who he is, the truth behind his films, and what was the real cause behind the death of his daughter Ashley.
These are fictional characters that exist inside the world of Night Film, a novel by Marisha Pessl. Escapism achieved. I was recommended the book almost a year ago. Actually, it might be a little over a year at his point. And I finally picked it up and read it. The recommendation was well justified.
Night Film follows Scott McGrath, a disgraced reporter who, after learning of Ashley Cordova’s death, is drawn back into the world of her father. A mysterious director whose films have a cult following that would make Tyler Durden envious. Using mock webpages and news articles strategically inserted into parts of the book, Pessl brings each reader that much further into the investigation, and that much further into the Cordova obsession. God I wish I was still with McGrath. Existing in that world with those characters and the mystery they are attempting to solve.
Night Film, congratulations. You’re a 7 on the Escapism Spectrum. Thank you for one hell of a ride.
Wow does time fly by. It seems like I was just here doing this exact same thing! Well, regardless, this week's short story choice was Gray Wings by Karl Bunker. Taking place at some point between the not-so-distant and still-kind-of-far-away future, Gray Wings follows a flyer competing in an aerial race. Think wing suits but surgically attached and connected.
While competing in this qualifying race, she gets caught in the draft of a plane and crashes down on an impoverished nation that is the stark opposite from the place she grew up. *Side note - I read this story prior to the "shit-hole nations" tweet that was spoken with such class and sophist--ugh, I can't even be sarcastic about this stuff anymore. Anyway, now that I'm revisiting this story after that incident, it's relevance has been renewed and it goes to show that good quality science fiction (and fiction in general) illustrates aspects of our lives and the world that we may not see all the time.
So, in the story, our flyer crashes down and befriends a son and his mother who live on a struggling farm. Repeated offers of money in exchange for assistance go unanswered, illustrating the noble, yet sometimes harmful characteristic of pride. And while that is one side of the coin, the other side that the reader can take away from these interactions is the very real barrier (though invisible) between people from different cultures, backgrounds, and lives. Things one person takes for granted could be something another individual scratches and claws for.
Though first being published almost half a decade ago, Gray Wings is still so relevant it could have been written and published yesterday. It was a great short story that captured and illustrated a side of humanity that still needs so much work. I strongly recommend people read it for the timeliness. Clarkesworld Magazine reprinted the story in 2016 and it can be read (or listened to) for free here: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/bunker_03_16_reprint/
And that's it for this week's short story reflection (review?) I'm still trying to figure out what I want to call this endeavor. Maybe I'll have it figured out next week when I talk about Lynn Coady's short story Play the Monster Blind out of The Penguin Book of Contemporary Canadian Women's Short Stories which I picked up in Halifax either last year or the year before. Taking a break from the science fiction and fantasy side of things, this short story was extracted from Lynn Coady's 2000 collection of the same name. See you all next week!
Well! Week one and I've successfully completed my New Year's resolution. Now there's only 51 more to go. But, if the rest of the stories are half as good as the first selection then this is going to be an awesome year. I picked Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8) by Caitlín R. Kiernan because of my love for her novella Agents of Dreamland. And this short story just re-infused my love for her writing.
Interstate Love Song is the story of our great nation's crimson soaked streets. Weaved through an interesting structure, this narrative follows our two main characters as something devastating unravels. And when something devastating unravels, so do people's lives. They flash before their eyes and in those seconds that stretch on like hours, all of the good and the bad shit they've done. In the case of Murder Ballad No. 8 it's, well, probably worse than you or I have. . . Maybe? God, I hope so.
Regardless of the actions or the motives, Kiernan glides us along this morbid love story with prose that literally sings. And with our twisted narrator. . . "We are moving along between the monotonous, barbarous, topography and the overcast sky, overcast at sunset the sky looked dead, and now, well past midnight, there is still no sign of moon nor stars to guide me, and I have only the road signs and the tattered atlas lying open beside me as I weave and wend through the Indian ghosts of Ozark Bluff Dwellers, stalkers of shambling mastodon and mammoth phantoms along these crude asphalt corridors."
Kiernan's mastery of lyrical language continues throughout the entire piece as she brings us deeper into the depths of this duos misfortunate and redemption. It's a dark tale. A morbid tale. And one that I would definitely recommend and read again.
So, Short Story Sunday #1 has set the bar high for the remainder of the year. The selection for Short Story Sunday #2 was done randomly (flipping through an anthology until I just decided to stop) and will lead us farther into my New Year's resolutions. For those keeping score, this week's story is Gray Wings by Karl Bunker. It's featured in The Year's Best Science Fiction Thirty-First Annual Collection. It was reprinted in this best-of after being originally published in the April/May 2013 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.
Till next Sunday folks. Stay safe, happy, healthy, and don't forget to praise the sun.