The Necessity of Stars by E. Catherine Tobler is a novella in the upcoming 2021 Neon Hemlock Novella Series. I know Tobler best from her editorial work at Shimmer Magazine, and oh! how those stories she gathered glimmered and glowed. This novella felt like a continuation of that wild wonder.
You look like you’ve fallen through a nebula, I whispered…
Bréone lives in Normandy on the Irislands, a pocket of garden untouched by advanced climate change. She is losing her memory with age and takes comfort from the green space and her neighbor and companion, Delphine. I could have sunk deep into that alone, but one day Bréone encounters a shadow that she can’t explain. That shadow is starry and strange, and like much promised by the stars, a hope.
A good amount of the story is internal. A narrative of someone trying to hang on to the things, and words, she needs and loves. We don’t often get older protagonists, and Bréone was a delight. As someone getting older myself, I wish for fiction that allows space and time to explore thoughts about aging, and in this way the novella was a pocket garden for me. I even had a dream one night after reading about becoming lost, so lost that I was unable to describe where I was to get help. Isn’t this how climate disaster feels? A remaking of our known reality into something we have trouble grasping?
The other striking theme was one of transformation. We cannot face the new reality without change in ourselves. We cannot live life to its fullest without becoming. Choices are part of this – both for our villains and our heroes – in our fiction and our reality. Who do we choose to grow into as we become our adult selves? Where is there room for our hunger? What can we control and how can we preserve what we love?
Memory tells us not to stray from the path and into the woods, for wolves linger there.
This is gentle writing. Lyrical and heartfelt. A story to read over and over, just as we retrace steps in our mind to keep hold of something we don’t want lost. A worry-stone for comfort. And, like life, it left me wanting more.
How beautiful it was to be necessary.
You can get your copy through the Neon Hemlock Kickstarter.
The Bletted Woman by Rebecca Campbell is a short story in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Mar/Apr 2021) that fits as a nice companion to Tobler’s novella. I read them both the same week and wanted to smoosh them together and make them kiss. I loved these characters so damn much.
In Campbell’s story, we have Judith who is also an older protagonist losing her memory with advancing age. She has already lost her husband and has now lost her sense of taste. I loved Judith. I loved her pragmatism and her deep thoughts. I loved how she faced what was coming by embracing the new with vulnerability, just like Bréone does in the novella above. There is so much hope and comfort in both tales, even though Campbell’s ending is a little scary. Isn’t that life, though?
It smelled like rain, which reminded Judith of something sad she couldn’t name.
Both the novella and the short story weave climate change into the small and personal of these women’s lives. I love how they both confront the unknown with intelligence and strength grown from a life of experience that renders them full of confidence and compassion. Oh, to age with such dignity and grace! Like roses.
During long, damp nights she turned her face to follow the moon, even when her eyes were gone and her sockets had grown over with lichen.
The concept in both of embracing, literally, the transformation that comes with endings is brilliant. It’s such a lovely way to prepare us for the future.
(Thank you to Neon Hemlock Press for an advanced copy of The Necessity of Stars.)