Her Husband’s Hands and Other Stories,
by Adam-Troy Castro
Publisher: Prime Books
336 pages, Kindle Edition
Published February 2014
An Adam-Troy Castro story was the cover feature for the first short story genre magazine issue I discovered, relatively late when entering grad school. I continue to wish his name would pop in issues more frequently. This collection is perfect for someone like me who is unfamiliar with a large amount of his previously published work.
The stories in this collection are united in being exceptional. They also share a common grim thread of disturbing themes or tones, at times moving into outright horror. This isn’t all Castro writes. In fact, he is rather adept at switching forms and styles. The stories here, however, illustrate his predilection and talent for darkness. Each showcases his ability to take core aspects of human relationships or conditions and taking them to extremes, to regions where the recognizable beauty of family, love, reproduction, etc begin to become warped into forms only partially recognizable, distorted and often very frightening.
In “Arvies” a world is postulated and explored where a devotion and respect for unborn life is taken to its extreme, at the expense and exploitation of the born, in the title story, with shades of ’50s B-movies, a grieving widow is reunited with her deceased soldier husband’s conscious, in the only part of his body left: an extreme of devotion and connection to the physical for ties to the emotional. “Shallow End of the Pool” takes sibling rivalry to extremes, and the closing “The Boy and the Box” switches up distortions from the human to the divine, taking a theology (in this case a rather poor theology) to absurd maximum.
I adored most of the other stories and appreciated the afterward by Castro regarding his writing and some of the inspirations and reactions to his work. (I still don’t get the significance of the title ‘Arvies’ though – ovaries??). “Our Future” stands out as the most unusual work here, more traditional and less disturbing, making it easy to see how it could form a part of a larger series of stories as it is. Though it doesn’t quite fit the collection perfectly it is a superb story with interesting ideas about ‘otherness’. The award-winning “Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs” was actually my least favorite story in that it just didn’t connect at all, meaning I may just need to reread it. The fragmentary and distant nature of its narrative voice was just too much the moment I read it I think.
The most profound and staggering story here is “Cherub”, a wonderfully conceived fable-esque fantasy where judging people’s moral standing from outward appearances is rendered fully manifest, but with the same basic problem. A gut-wrenchingly beautiful tale, said without hyperbole. This story conveys in purest terms Castro’s ability to look upon the basics of humanity, even in its darkness, and construct a fantastic story of the concept’s extremes without rendering anything clichéd, absurdly silly,or insincere. Instead, his stories stay brutally honest, despite extremes woven around speculative plots, transcending into a basic communication with the reader that more often than not connects with a wisp of beauty shining from within the outer layers of disturbing darkness.
Any SF/Fantasy reader should give this a read, as well as anyone liking literary fiction on a darker edge. This is one collection I am picking up in physical form ASAP.