Review: Sparks and Shadows by Lucy Snyder

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sparks and Shadows by Lucy Snyder (cover)

Sparks and Shadows

by Lucy Snyder

HW Press, 2007
Paperback, 356 pages
ISBN: 9780979234613

"Sparks and Shadows" is a collection of poems, short stories, and essays by GUD contributor Lucy Snyder ('Sublety', Issue 2). Snyder has a unique voice and her work is almost instantly recognisable. Dive into this collection and you begin to feel like you're swimming around inside her head. It's not necessarily comfortable in there, but it's certainly interesting.

It's rare to encounter a writer who so loves words and the changes that can be rung and the tricks that can be played. Rare and precious. But because of Snyder's versatility, it's difficult to give an overview of this collection. Every piece is different, and every piece demands attention. So I'm just going to pick out a few to comment on, and you'll have to buy a copy if you want to know the strangeness and wonder of the rest.

In the short story 'A Preference for Silence', we meet Veronica, who has "never lost her tea in zero gee", but for whom the predilection of the title becomes more and more pressing while she and companion Melvin keep watch on a sleepship travelling through space. It's always the little things that wear you down, and even out in the deep black, peace isn't so easily found. Snyder presents the story with confidence, explaining only that which you need to know, and leaving the rest to silence.

The hilarious short story 'Boxlunch' starts with a slightly risky hunt for a condom and ends with a race-against-time through mortar attacks in order to save a recorded ('boxlunched') personality from data decay. This story started off by reminding me of "Appropriate Love" by Greg Egan in which a woman must incubate her dead husband's brain, but it soon went off in an entirely different direction. Egan's story was more disturbing; this is funnier.

"I know you’ll fly to me;
babies can’t resist the shiny, pretty things,"

So speaks the narrator of 'Dark Matter', the "death we cannot see", or, given our endless curiosity, elude. The poems in the ebook version tend to have their last stanza dropped onto a second page, which can give a false impression of where the poem ends. Here, I thought it ended nicely before I even noticed the last stanza--maybe it's one stanza the poem could have done without?

'Through Thy Bounty' presents a chef forced by alien invaders to cook the relatives of the resistance of which she (or he? the narrative doesn't specify) was once a part. The chef's only salvation is a telepathic link with her mother, the organiser of the fight against the Jagaren. Urged by her mother to stay alive, the chef cooks meal after meal, day after day, butchering men, women, and children alike with a dreadful, self-willed calmness. Disgusted by her mother's plan to sacrifice herself trying to rescue her "helpless, useless child", the narrator belatedly discovers there's more to it than that. Although heavy with backstory, this macabre tale is gripping. The reader is forced to balance sympathy for and dislike of the narrator in about equal measure.

In a more light-hearted vein, we have "The Fish and the Bicycle", a poem that explores the incompatibility between the eponymous creations.

"Consider the physics:
how could she pedal
with fragile fanning fins,
sit with slippery tail,
steer with gasping mouth?"

In its subtle way, the poem is a commentary on the saying from which it derives its concept. A fish may be unable safely to ride a bicycle, but, Snyder says, that doesn't mean she doesn't want to. The deadly attraction can't be denied.

With the short essay 'Camp Songs', Snyder takes an idea about indoctrination via Girl Scout songs and runs with it--some might say too far. It's probably best to enjoy the ride, both here and with the essays that follow. Like 'Why I Can't Stay Out of My Husband's Pants'. No, not in THAT way--go wash your brain out! "And, oh, the pockets! Deep, capacious pockets! I could keep all my hopes and dreams in pockets like those." But she can't just go out and buy men's pants. This is Ohio, after all. Fortunately, her husband can solve the problem, if he can only pay attention to it, rather than her, for long enough. This is more of a rant than an essay, but it's touching, all the same. As for 'The Dickification of the American Female', I honestly can't tell you whether it's a rant, a story, two interviews, or an essay. I know for certain it's not a poem. It starts innocently enough by letting you think that "dickification" only refers to famed SF author Philip K. Dick, whom Cassandra (whose story this is) apparently discovered much younger than I did--lucky her! But then it's time for Randi's story, which goes into "Tiny Tango" territory (anyone else know that "undrag" story?) until an almost complete dickification has been achieved. Very strange stuff. Finally, 'Menstruation for Men' is the essay so many women have wanted to write, but only Snyder has. A shame that men will probably wince and skip it.

The discomforting poem 'The Jarred Heart' plays with two meanings of "jarred"--the narrator's heart is literally in a jar, and she (or he? again, we don't know, and we're forced to deal with that not-knowing), and her love for the enchanter who "wooed me and won me // fed me lies sweeter than the opium wine" has been jarred by the discovery of treachery, and poison. But the narrator's not going to put up with this situation for long. Lots of play on words here; it's a delight.

'...Next on Channel 77' gives a literal bent to the idea that our deceased relatives are looking over us in Heaven. Tom's Aunt Fran comes back as a news announcer who's determined no harm will come to him, or to the two sisters he hasn't seen in years. While running hither and thither to do her bidding, Tom rediscovers connections to his family that he (and they) thought were gone forever. There's perhaps one too many emergencies in this story; it started to lose credibility towards the end. Better pacing might have helped, but this is ultimately a feelgood story with not much more to offer.

Dark, funny, and romantic by turns, "Sparks and Shadows" is a must read. Go! Buy! Read!

(An e-version was reviewed)

Lucy Snyder's poem "Subtlety" appears in GUD Issue 2. Try a taster.


- reddit, digg, facebook, stumbleupon, etc... please! ;)
posted by Debbie

41 comments; 24 subscribers

Monday, January 5, 2009 / 10:54:15

To win the review .pdf of "Sparks and Shadows", tell us in comments who'd spark your interest if you found them lurking in the shadows.

Contest open to everyone in the world and ends 20th January 2009 (midnight pacific time).
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 / 14:07:01
Contest Update!

For all you lucky people in the United States, and thanks to the generosity of the fine people at Horrorworld Press, we now have a hard copy of "Sparks and Shadows" to give away!

Please enter the contest as above :). We'll pick one lucky US resident as our winner!
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 / 16:26:20
the boogie man
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 / 16:46:48
I would love to see a priest or some other harbinger of light lurking in the shadows. I might have to slip behind to follow.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 / 19:46:41
A raven would spark my interest if it were lurking in the shadows.

Firstly, because I'd think, "Hmm, Ravens are diurnal, what's it doing awake at night?"

And secondly, because I'd think, "If I can see black on black, maybe my night vision is pretty good--glad I didn't get Lasik and ruin it."
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 / 19:55:03
I would love to find a mythical creature like a fairy.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 / 20:31:15
A unicorn because that would just be really weird. I mean, I'm not some little girl or anything just thinking about unicorns all day. So. Why would it be there? That's why it was just be like ... totally "WTF?" haha

And then I would ask if the unicorns name was charlie.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 / 20:42:07
ROFL. I think you do think about Charlie the Unicorn all day!
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 / 21:59:12
angelina jolie
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 / 01:38:54
I would like to see a Hobbit lurking in the shadows,I know that I would have no worries.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 / 07:05:17
"ROFL. I think you do think about Charlie the Unicorn all day!"

Maybe... maybe... ;P
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 / 10:07:38
Honestly, anyone lurking in the bushes would spark my attention.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 / 11:35:31
I think I wouldlike to meet bigfoot in the shadows but a hobbit would be cool and Iwould have to follow him
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 / 13:15:15
She would be there, as she is in fact. She, my first. In the shadows, all my shadows. And grown older. Not a child now, but older. The marks of the years on her face, as they are on mine, and her hair a little grey. She would be there, calling me back, whispering my name.

And when I turn to see, even in the shadow, her eyes are still the same, blue like the sky is in them, and flecked with amber, sparks of flame, burning burning me. And she says my name again, or I think she does for I have wanted for so long that she would, and I reach into the dark of what was and can never be again, and I am suddenly lost and know what it is to be struck blind.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 / 13:39:12
Phylis Diller would be odd to meet in the shadows
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 / 13:46:53
George Carlin. Need I say more?
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 / 16:58:31
Adolph Hitler! Yikes that would be too spookey.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 / 19:28:06
I'd say the same thing that sparked everyone else's interest: venomous nightblooms.

Sure, sure, it looked like unicorns or George Carlin or Angelina Jolie or hobbits or waffles or whatever, but it was actually venomous nightblooms.

See, they only blossom in darkness, like all the best evil plantlife, and they emit pheromones that make you think you're seeing something really appealing and wonderful. So you rush up, thinking, "Mmm, Angelina!" or "Mmmm, hobbits!" or "Hot damn! Waffles!"

And instead, you get thorny vines driven through your innards and eyeballs and other squishy bits.

And then, once they got you all cleaned up for the funeral, that's when your body starts emitting spores, turning your mom and sister and Uncle Florian into venomous nightbloom seedpods.

Fine, fine, it may not actually be *appealing*, but it sure would spark your interest, wouldn't it?
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 / 20:18:20
I knew an angel,
A lady in white,
Whose very face
Begged the light.

If she were found
In shadows thick,
Knife in hand
Blood so slick.

I'd run away
From her stare,
Still wondering
Why she was there.
Thursday, January 8, 2009 / 15:04:22
Edward Cullen (Fictional character from Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Series)....

ktgonyea at
Friday, January 9, 2009 / 11:53:04
These days I just hope it's my boyfriend or my cat. As for what I'd like to see... well, a nice jackal is always interesting, no?
Friday, January 9, 2009 / 12:58:45
If I met my other self lurking in the shadows, it would spark my interest. I would love to know where I have been, and find out more about my hidden side.... to hear my honest answers to the questions on my mind.
Saturday, January 10, 2009 / 00:12:11
Lucifer he CAN NOT have my soul!
Monday, January 12, 2009 / 20:28:29
hmmm - my other self
Tuesday, January 13, 2009 / 02:42:52
My future self, coming to unobrtusively make sure I make the right decision or make the right turn...turn the right key.

Or perhaps the man of my dreams, instantly recognized as the one I share another life with in my sleep.
Sunday, January 18, 2009 / 06:13:12
The ghost of Britney Spears career.
Monday, January 19, 2009 / 07:06:37
Monday, January 19, 2009 / 07:28:30
A dark angel would spark my interest if he or she were lurking in the shadows. I'd be wondering who they were there for or if it were me?
Monday, January 19, 2009 / 12:34:31
If John Cusack were lurking in the shadows, I'd be thrilled.
Monday, January 19, 2009 / 12:34:31
If John Cusack were lurking in the shadows, I'd be thrilled.
Monday, January 19, 2009 / 12:36:45
Doubly thrilled! :D
Monday, January 19, 2009 / 14:26:00
now,no one. I'm still waiting for my soul mate .I'm sure that he'll :)
Monday, January 19, 2009 / 17:03:44
Hugh Jackman!
Monday, January 19, 2009 / 20:11:34
Brad Pitt.........or maybe a genie who grants wishes forever and forever.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 / 07:36:39
Captain Kirk, Spock and Scotty
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 / 10:49:43
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 / 15:54:12
Dr House ;)
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 / 19:36:09
Some mystical creature would spark my interest!
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 / 22:02:22
James Marsters.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 / 23:17:16
A unicorn would definitely spark my interest! ;0D
Thursday, January 22, 2009 / 05:38:36
What a great lot of entries! I especially love "the ghost of Britney's career". LOL

We're choosing two winners, as we have both the review .pdf and a hardcopy to give away, thanks to HorrorWorld Press :).

The winner of the review .pdf is Douglas Bruton. Congrats Douglas! And what a beautifully-written entry :).

And the winner of the hardcopy, plus bonus flats, is danosor :). Even though, yes, that is a very scary thought!

Winners picked by GameBot; prizes courtesy of HorrorWorld; draw for "A Field Guide to Surreal Botany" still active; this has been your squirrel, Good Night!

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