How to Get Back to the Forest

In a delirious fit, which is basically my constant state when in a bookstore, I procured a pair of short story collections. One of them, The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2015, happened to be the first target for my lingering gaze. Mostly because it happened to be on top when the clerk put them in the bag, but also because the first experiences I ever had with books that truly captivated me were the ones that were out there.

Sofia Samatar’s story opens the volume, and it postulates a world of succeeding generations going through camps and being pushed out into targeted industries or the army to meet the world’s needs. It’s not really about that, though. The stories I remember stick in the mind because of the characters, the people populating whatever nutty setting the author has conjured after their tenth cup of coffee.

The narrator in Samatar’s story is a wallflower, hanging out and not pushing buttons. She’s our window into Samatar’s world, but it’s a tinted one. Our narrator is missing a friend, one that was possibly crazy, but also possibly very right about a very wrong situation. And our narrator’s main action in the story is to prevent that friend from disclosing her secret, from convincing the others to believe.

Samatar’s tale is a stream-of-consciousness exercise, and it’s fascinating to read the narrator re-evaluate her actions and change her mind in real (fictional) time. Is the setting creepy? Are there the unanswered questions and vague statements about things that exist in a shadowy beyond about which we’ll never know anything?

Of course. But that’s all back-drop to the emotional core of two friends holding hands in a dark and scary world. Only one let go, and both were lost.

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