Solution (Brian Evenson)

Started May 30, 2021
Finished May 30, 2021

As I do every Sunday night, I lit a few candles and pulled the stop on my tub. It didn’t take long to fill. Trying not to knock my candles into the hot water, I flipped happily through the pages on my Kindle to find the next book to chew down on. An anthology of horror fiction? A ghostly thriller? A treatise on the history of chaos? Sundays are for leisure reading. After all, sometimes you need a cozy mystery about a cat-enthusiast solving a murder.

Then again, sometimes you need a good short story about what desperation and desire will make a person do. Sometimes you need to finish reading, sit up in your still-warm tub, and spend half an hour thinking about the ethical implications of your beliefs.

Solution by Brian Evenson will have you thinking about it for far longer than it takes for you to read. Coming in at a petite twenty pages, the candles had barely started to melt by the time I closed out the tale. Even so, it was a full hour before I returned to my desk to jot down my thoughts.

Let’s start with a quick summary before I dig in deeper to the plot: In a world coming up on death by environmental depletion and destruction, our narrator, a scientist, decides they are going to do something about it.

From here on out, we have spoilers and my related babbling, so if you’re interested in reading it untainted by my flapping tongue, scroll to the bottom for links to where to get Solution.

Right from the start, our narrator gives us our “why.” The scientist is living through the environmental death of the world. Rich get richer on the labor (and tax dollars) of the poor and people put off paying attention to a problem until it was literally catastrophic. The sons are revealed, each seeking survival in their own way and realllllly skeeving out their dad.

From there, the story continues on a methodical, dread-filled pace towards an end you can see coming a mile away. Just because it’s predictable doesn’t mean it isn’t good, folks.

The protagonist’s judgment of the sons formed the start of my ethics questioning. I like to think I would be horrified at the sons reasoning and valuing of their lives over the lives of other. But on the other hand, on a practical level I can understand trying to keep your head down and survive.

Furthermore, what is truth in a subjective world? The protagonist is disgusted at the lack of community thinking and how it is not the deserved who get to be saved. But deserved in whose opinion? Who makes the rules? Whose judgment do we trust as arbiter?

A major stylistic choice I quite appreciate throughout Solution is the lack of character names. Our protagonist is a man, but is not confirmed as such until the majority of the way through the story. (I, in fact, assumed a female protagonist,but it isn’t really a bothersome confusion.)

Given the detached style our narrator seems to exhibit at times, I think the lack of names works quite well. Instead we focus on roles – wife, daughter, one son, other son. While we get illumination of most of the other character’s natures, all except the daughter remain relatively blank to us. At most, we get a scene to depict how the protagonist interprets their nature.

Admittedly, my father most often just refers to me as “girl”, so I’m probably more used to it than most.

As well, the more detached telling has a more familiar callback to me on an educational level. When I was younger, I was taught that scientific papers were to be written in passive-tense. Why? Because it is the work that matters more than the individual performing it. I feel that’s a mindset our narrator might take. Perhaps he would find an elegance in his end would it be coming from another scientist.

Or perhaps not.

Unhinged, questionably-ethical scientist trying to save life on Earth? If that’s a logline that you dig, Solution is definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 4 / 5
Will I Reread?: Maybe, leaning towards probably not. While I did enjoy it, I can’t deny it was predictable.
Will I Recommend?: Yes! It’s a quick, enjoyable read.

You can pick up solution on Amazon for your kindle or read online for free at Tor, its publisher.

The Year Without A Summer (DeAnna Knippling)

Started Jan 2, 2021
Finished Jan 15,2021

I am a simple reader—I see an interesting cover and “horror” as the genre, and I’m probably going to put it in my cart. Given that, it was obvious The House Without A Summer by DeAnna Knippling was going on my TBR. I mean, look at this cover, folks.

The promise of gothic horror and a vaguely-Lovecraftian/clockwork cover? Glorious.

In The House Without A Summer, Knippling shares the tale of the Penderbrook estate. In a year where unusually moist, cool weather is causing mayhem to the world’s agriculture, Marcus has returned from the war front to his family home after word of his brother’s death. While there, he learns from Lucy, his childhood friend (and brother’s fiance-to-be), of a red fungus overtaking the area and the downright bizarre behavior of his father. And yes, as forewarning, our main character has more daddy issues than my TikTok feed, which is truly saying something.

While I understand gothic horror tends to luxuriate in its details, I felt like this luxury really slowed down the pace. It took me around two weeks of off-and-on reading to work through the roughly 230 pages, whereas a similar sized but better-paced novel rarely lasts more than a few days, if that.

The tradeoff for the slower pace is a greater exploration of the scenery and mood of Penderbrook and its inhabitants. It was easy to imagine the estate, following the characters through its halls and outbuildings. The surrounding “Year Without A Summer” is illuminated clearly, and its impacts shown in their devastating effects on the world. Admittedly, it sounds awful and I never want to go there, but I could probably trot my way to the kitchens and then to the library of Penderbrook if I had the misfortune of showing my face there.

Something I feel should be noted to any would-be readers is the stylistic shift between the first portion of the novel and the back ~20%. The switch between the two was somewhat jarring to read, and while both are good on their own, they felt so different I wonder if she had taken a long break in the middle of creating the tale. A glance at Goodreads suggests that I’m not the only person who felt this way, so be aware if you decide to partake.

Noteworthy for the Kindle edition is a couple of small typos (primarily a spot where two characters with B names have their names interchanged a few times). For the most part, these were innocuous enough and easy to skim over, with just a few affecting the reading experience.

Overall, while not a terrible read, I wouldn’t call The House Without A Summer a particularly excellent read either. If you enjoy the classic conventions of gothic horror, character-heavy narrative, and explorations of how people can relate to one another and their desires, I’d say pick it up if you see it on sale. Maybe. (But man, what a rad cover.)

Rating: 3.5 / 5
Will I Reread?: No
Will I Recommend?: For the most part, no

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