Monday 2 April 2018

Review: Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde

Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This story is available to read and listen to online at narrated by Amal El-Mohtar.
It has been shortlisted for the 2018 Hugo Awards.

I found this story extremely challenging. I am not at all sure I understand it. It appears to be about a visit to a museum, perhaps a Natural History museum wiht specimens, like butterflies and bugs pinned out in display cases. At times it felt like the first person narrator was one of the exhibits, that the visitor was on some type of trolley. They tour through various rooms, which denote sections to the story - the Entrance with the Ticket Booth, A Hallway of Things People Have Swallowed, A Radium Room, A Room of Objects That Are Really People, Our Curator’s Special Collection, A Room of Objects That Are Very Sharp, The Hall of Criminals and Saints, This Way to the Exit. It took me ages to work out the word "that rhymes with eek" ***SPOILER ALERT *** must be " freak" and that the story has something to do with being different, being differently abled. Was the narrator, the guide, differently abled, was the visitor, were they both?

ashramblings verdict 2* This story went completely over my head :( I'm clearly missing something and would love to hear from others who have read it and have some insight, else I'll be conluding that the author has not got her message across.

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  1. I updated my GoodReads review with this
    It doesn't look like I was too far off the mark in guessing the guide was also a exhibit. But it's not just the run of the mill natural history exhibit its more about medical oddities. In her own blog post Fran Wilde states "The story is a meld of Victorian cabinets of curiosity with some of the children’s hospitals I visited as a patient — the old part of the AI Dupont Children’s wing, a building at Penn I was too young to remember the name of — and the old freak show / dime show complexities. The narrator is part of the staff, a guide, and an exhibit also. This is a guide with opinions, with some power."

    Her explanation does lend more clarity to the story and makes sense of Uncanny Magazine's podcast intro to it. I've never been to a "freak show" where one pays to see, although on a minor level, heaving wore tooth braces as a child, I can relate to hiding them so others wouldn't see because of their stares and comments.

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