A friend recommended I buy Brenda Peynado’s collection of fiction, The Rock Eaters, pointing out that, while comfortably genre, most of the stories were published in literary magazines like the Georgia Review and the Kenyon Review Online. I did and, yes, these works exist in the space not many writers occupy where the mingled fabulism of fantasy-SF-horror coexists with the mainstream.
The lead story, “Thoughts and Prayers,” begins as follows:
The morning before the school shooting passed like any other, all. My neighbors out at dawn performing oblations to the angels on our roofs. Families clustered around the sidewalks, mist from our lawns swirling around our ankles, looking up at the angels’ pale humanoid faces and downy bird bodies perched beside our chimneys. Our mothers beat their breasts, performing sorrow for the tragedies that always went on elsewhere in the world. Our parents shouted their usual “Thoughts and prayers! Thoughts and prayers!” toward the angels atop our roofs .As children, we were supposed to kneel in the moist grass and be quiet, in case the angels were ever to speak.
Which is not only beautifully written but efficient storytelling.
Though the angels supposedly protect the families within their chosen houses, some angels are better at it than others. The results are indistinguishable from chance. People being people, those who experience a run of bad luck are assumed to somehow deserve their defective angel.
The narrator/protagonist lives through the shooting but the sister of a close friend does not. Those affected react in the complex ways that a community in trauma might. It’s convincingly done, in part because Peynado is a dab hand at creating thoroughly believable characters.
I have only one dissatisfaction with the story. The day after the shooting, the Mothers for the Sanctity of the World and the Good Guys With Guns show up to feed off of the ensuing
media attention. The women are sanctimonious, the men with their AR-15s are a constant danger to the children, and the story veers off into outright satire.
But that may just be me. A lot of readers like satire and prefer that its messages come across loud and clear. Buy a copy (or get it through your library) and make up your own mind.
In any case, there’s no denying that Brenda Peynado is a heck of a good writer. I’m glad I bought that book.