“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay,” by Alyssa Wong

Uncanny May/June 2016
Uncanny May/June 2016

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay,” by Alyssa Wong.
Published in Uncanny, May/June 2016.

Vanessa Fogg sums this one up:

Her latest story in Uncanny Magazine is classic Alyssa Wong: intense, visceral writing; searing imagery; building horror. An orphan in this alternate Wild West can bring dead things back to life—and perhaps put them to rest as well. Skeletons rise, dead things dance, and there’s an unforgettable scene involving a chicken. In the end, it’s also a beautiful story of loss and love.

The reviewers at OneMore dig deep into the piece:

Full disclosure: I love the desert and I love myth-making. Any story that can combine the two, bringing the desert to haunting life until you can hear the dead and smell the hot breeze is almost certain to win me over.

(…) Is it about trying to come to terms with your heritage? About not fitting in and being unsure where there’s a place for you? Possibly. It’s certainly about love and loyalty and what we’re prepared to sacrifice. And it’s definitely uncanny. Excellent stuff.

Charles Payseur observes:

This is a story that equal parts strange and bleak and beautiful to me, like the desert. Like doomed love. (…) In many ways I read the story as about how sometimes there’s no escaping a situation, a place. Sometimes who you are, who your parents are, and the machinations and plots of those with more power, are damning and inescapable. Which is not to say that those situations are hopeless.

And at Hollywood The Write Way, Melody writes:

This story is a great exploration of what it’s like living with a curse in a survival of the fittest, use everyone for personal gain society, what it means to embrace your identity. It’s a fine exploration of power and expectations, love and boundaries, fear and the limitations it brings, it allows for, it thrives in. Grief and holding on. Moving on. What an intensely rich and sobering mirror of real life.

What did you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments below!

7 thoughts on ““You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay,” by Alyssa Wong”

  1. A mixed bag, for me. Nice, evocative language, and the magic is suitably weird. But it’s still a story where the fantastic elements are not so much integrated into the worldbuilding as inserted to reflect the emotional state of the characters. It’s pretty much a modern-default Western setting, but I’d expect more of a difference given how readily people accept the supernatural aspects of the mine disaster.

  2. I had a lot of trouble getting into this one. Somehow, nothing here really grabbed me and held my attention. I felt like I was constantly waiting for the story to get started.

    The characters seemed defined entirely by the things that had happened to them; I didn’t get any sense of personality from them. I surely might have missed it — there was a lot going on — but for me, nothing really stood out or stuck.

    And, well, I’m not really connecting to the reviewers talking about “embracing your identity,” “coming to terms with your heritage,” “how sometimes there’s no escaping a situation, a place.” Yes, sure, all those things happen; but I’m not feeling like those generalize or resonate much beyond the individual characters and situation. Most of our identities and heritages don’t have a whole lot to do with immense-yet-confining power. And I don’t feel like the story really made it much more than that.

    All in all, nothing bothered me in the story, but it left me pretty entirely cold. I’m not quite seeing *what* people found as so evocative. Ah well.

  3. My reaction to this story is pretty similar to my reaction to most of her work. I’m not a great fan of horror at all, and whether I enjoy the darker end of fantasy is very situational, so her stories often fall into an area I’m not likely to enjoy. However, despite often not liking the subject matter I still read everything of hers I see, because she’s just an excellent writer and I always get something out of her stories.
    Anyway, that’s a long way round of saying that I didn’t really connect with the story but that’s primarily down to my personal taste, and I finished it admiring her prose anyway. Part of this was probably that a American western setting isn’t as evocative to me as it will be to a US reader.

    1. Hmmm. I don’t tend to enjoy what I think of as “horror for horror’s sake,” stories where the shock or fear or gore are the primary point (although I happily acknowledge that these can be excellently done). But there’s plenty of very excellent stories that get categorized as “horror” (and we’ve previously discussed some great pieces from Nightmare and The Dark), so I’m definitely not averse to it as a subgenre.

      This… didn’t feel to me particularly like a horror story. Dark, yes — people in tragic, painful, desperate situations. But horror? A sense of mounting dread? I didn’t really get the sense that that’s what the story was doing. Did you?

      1. I’m particularly with you on not getting “horror for horror’s sake” but that’s not what this is, no. I put it at the end of Dark that I often don’t like. To be honest it’s a piece of personal preference that I find difficult to explain because it’s really situational – e.g. I will usually like a piece of Lovecraftiana that I can read as primarily fantasy, but I’m not sure I could reliably explain what the difference is!

    2. As for evocation of setting, I’m also non-US — or very, very, very ex-US. That might be part of it? But I also didn’t spot any setting-establishment that felt to me like, “oh, this is going over my head.” As a setting, the surroundings felt fairly thinly drawn — full of emotion and significance, but very light on actual detail.

      1. I think that when you have a sub(sub?)genre you can potentially sketch the setting with minimal work due to trope-savvy readers. I’m assuming that that’s what’s going on given that, like you, I didn’t really buy into the setting yet others have really liked it. (And it just got a nebula nom so they must really really like it!)

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