6 thoughts on ““The Men from Narrow Houses” by A. C. Wise”

  1. I really like what I’ve seen of A. C. Wise’s writing so far; "Even in This Skin" was a favorite story last year, and "Silver Buttons All Down His Back" was pretty good too.

  2. This didn’t really cohere for me.

    Everything was unusual, but it didn’t gel into anything solid. And there was a strong strain of"SOMETHING nameless and horrible is going to get you" which just didn’t have enough grounding and substance to work for me.

  3. "Once upon a time she was a fox inside the skin of a girl, or the other way around. Both. Neither. She knew how to change, flicker quick, no need for a magician and his star-spangled cabinet. She buttoned herself into her lovely fox skin and strutted around town with a ribboned top hat and a wicked grin. Fox and girl, one and the same."

    It’s kind of a shame that the fox-girl is barely herself during this story, because she sounds like fun! I’d like to read about her other adventures. But the author chose to write about the one time she got into really, really deep trouble… by doing a kindness (I hope that doesn’t mean she will never be generous again).

    A disorienting writing style evokes a shifting existence here. The other fox is depicted as a _stage_ magician because he’s lost the ability to actually shift and only trades in illusion (very effective illusion, though).

    There’s a theme of female freedom here. Represented by Gabby’s ability to change. That the magician would ask her (and try every sort of compulsion) to give it to him, and that her loss of identity leads her to decide to get married to a guy who thinks he has her future all planned out, are familiar situations for women dealing with men. It is not, in my opinion, overly obvious and didactic, because it is filtered through the very particular experiences of this particular shifty woman.

    She is unlike the fox spirit in "Foxfire, Foxfire" in almost every way, except that they are both represented as presenting themselves to humans in a seductively female form. Why did Gabby promise to marry Fred if he’d help her? He probably would have done as a favor. But maybe she thought that, since the magician had returned her a bad turn for the good one she did him, she needed to pay Fred back. And it came to mind, out of ancient tradition, that sex (or marriage) was the appropriate payment.

    There sure are a lot of stories about men who win an animal wife by helping her; they don’t end in harmony, though. These stories always have the wife voluntarily giving up her power to change shape (and, by implication, all her power) to settle down in marriage; but the husband always does something that causes her to reassert herself and leave. I like the multiple ways that this story subverts the traditional pattern. One, of course, by telling it from the wife’s point of view (she is never, traditionally, the central character). Another, by juxtaposing her marriage to a blatant attempt to steal her power, so that they are seen as both threats. Third, by heading off the usual course of the narrative: it is Gabby’s loss of self that leads her to think of marriage in the first place, and regaining it means stopping the marriage before it begins. Which subverts the old stories’ implication that the husband actually won his wife by his merit and actually lost her by his fault. She is not winnable here.

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