Short Story Review: “The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club” by Nike Sulway

3 of 5 stars.

Two bright bangles on an arm clang, a single bangle is silent, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Khargavisana-sutra [the Rhinoceros Sutra] c.29 BCE

Where fantasy and realism tumble, absurdism lies in wait. Like the iconic Walter Mitty of The Thurber Carnival and Don Quixote, some go through life deeply in their own heads allowing their fantasies to color their realities. In this quixotic tale, a woman’s mantras, all taken from the The Rhinoceros Sutra, lead her to the same conclusion . . . wander alone like a rhinoceros. The tale intermittently describes the characters as doing normal things, such as baking, and writing and patronizing [and running, in Clara’s case] cafes and the characters as rhinos with grey, thick skin and plodding legs as they wallow in mud or recline in pasture.

Seeing the danger that comes from affection, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Clara attends the Karen Joy Fowler Book Club, not that they’ve managed to meet yet, nor even to finish a book yet, but it’s a club never-the-less. When she pens a short story of her own, not a single reading club member can manage to peruse the tale, which is just typical. Life plods along like this all the time for Clara.

She’s neither estranged nor deeply connected to anybody. Her ex-husband has moved on to a new female. Her daughter lives close but when the daughter’s husband dies, it takes Clara nearly 6 months to find out. And then there’s her “friendship” with the reading circle that doesn’t meet. She does come close to bonding with one member, Belle. They go into business together running a cafe, and even become occasional lovers. But there’s something amiss amid all of the alone-ness. Could it be the looming, unavoidable extinction of the rhinoceros?

Give up your children, and your wives, and your money, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

This tale appears in a couple “best of” anthologies. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan, I received from Netgalley. The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, I received directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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