Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories by Lynda Clark
It seems that putting The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado on my best of 2021 list and noting how it’s redeemed my faith in short story collections was a bad idea, as I’ve apparently jinxed myself with regard to said collections, being that I’m now 0 for 3 on them since then. The third “0-fer” is Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories (2021) by Lynda Clark, which has its moments but left me disappointed overall.
Generally, the collection is a mix of fantastical genres, though how much so will depend on one’s subjective definitions of the seemingly infinite sub-genres thrown under that particular umbrella category, such as fantasy, magical realism, fairy tale/folklore, science fiction, etc. The stories are mostly well written on a stylistic level, but many fell short of feeling whole or fully developed to me, failing to create any particular emotional impact or feeling somewhat formless or directionless at the close, as you can see from these notes coming at the close of several of the tales: “interesting story but peters out,” “feels unfinished,” “like idea but feels unfinished,” “doesn’t stick the landing,” “again, good set-up but not developed enough,” “same issue, feels unfinished,” “same problem, not enough there.”
You can see my frustration at the pattern. And to clarify, when I say the story feels unfinished or doesn’t nail the ending, I’m not looking for a neat resolution necessarily, just something to warrant my time spent with these characters in this situation. That said, it’s quite possible that the author and I are just desiring different things out of a story. Outside of a few of them, I’d classify most of these to be “premise stories” — the core of the tale is the idea at its center, that (or the repercussions of that twist idea) is the story, and so to ask for more impact from character or plot is looking for something unintended. If you like those sorts of stories, you’ll respond much more positively. I did enjoy a few of these, but those few aren’t enough to tip this review into a recommendation. A few specifics:
- “Sidhe Wood”: Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories actually started out strongly, with one of my favorite stories in the book. A play off your basic changeling tale, Clark nails the narrative voice here beautifully, creating a sharply witty and even chilling tale with a great close (the best ending in the collection). And plot-wise that ending is set up perfectly without it being predictable, though once at the end you can absolutely see how you ended up there. My favorite story.
- “Ghillie’s Mum”: The second story and my second favorite (as noted, the book starts strongly). The mum in question is a shapeshifter: “When he was a baby, Ghillie’s mother was mostly an orangutan … At bath time she was other animals. A baby elephant to squirt him with water … Ghillie assumed everyone’s mother was many things and so didn’t worry about it at all for the first few years of his life, but when he started school, he realized his mom wasn’t like other mums.” It’s both a funny story and a poignantly moving one.
- “Dreaming in Quantum”: This was an intriguing tale of alternate universes and someone/something seemingly aiming at killing all the versions of a character. It began strongly, but then, as noted above, petered out in disappointing fashion
- “Total Transparency”: A story where a man’s wife begins to turn transparent and then eventually disappears. Again, I liked how it started, I liked the concept at the center and all the possible metaphors, but the story itself left me somewhat cold; a more academic or removed exploration of the idea as opposed to one that felt tethered to real people, real lives.
Beyond these four, the rest of Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories didn’t do much for me, with my responses ranging from “solid” to worse than that. Given that the collection holds over a dozen stories, that’s not a particularly good ratio, thus the “not recommended.” Though if you can read those first two stories, either online or via checking the book out of the library, I can happily suggest doing so.