Review: “Swell” by Elizabeth Bear

4 of 5 stars.

This eerie, musical tale resonates with echoes of urban legends. It’s made more uncanny with its daring use of a second person, present tense point of view through warped perceptions and seductions.

You are Missy, a garage musician pulling random gigs vying to find your unique sound. After a late night, deep January gig up in frozen New England, Missy notices a blind girl, looking barely of age to be in a bar, that has not left as the venue is closing up for the night. She offers the fan a ride home as the girl is walking with a cane–at night–on icy walks. The house she drops the girl off at is derelict and unshoveled, but the girl enters the unlit house. Curious, Missy returns the next day to find the house long-abandoned and 2 sets of footprints leading into the woods behind the house, one set is the girls, the other consists of large man-boot prints.

Sondheim would be proud, as going into the woods is usually a bad idea in a supernatural tale. Missy follows the tracks to where they stop at an icy stream. This modern urban legend / fairy tale carves a new and crazy path through the ice from here involving a cave, a lake, a seductive-sexy-cave dwelling mermaid, and a deaf musical instrument maker. Everything reeks of conflict and the uncanny. What is good and pleasurable and kind feels creepy. What is skin-crawlingly eerie may be a blessing.

This story appears in the latest anthology edited by Paula Guran, Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, published by Prime Books. “Swell” first appeared in Eclipse 3 edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books, 2009).
[Check out my other reviews here.]


One response to “Review: “Swell” by Elizabeth Bear

  1. Pingback: Short Story Review: “Cryptic Coloration” by Elizabeth Bear | Jaffalogue

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