These days the amount of discussion, commentary, criticism, review material, etc. available on sf and fantasy is astounding. The gates blown off by the internet, anyone with a google account can create a blog and be a critic. Naturally in this flood exist people with simple mindsets; they love or hate something, and are unafraid to spout either. Often insensitive to the relativity of the positions (unskilled reviewer vs. professional writer) not to mention lacking the tools necessary to properly review, the result can be hurt feelings if the writer is particularly prone to personalizing such attacks. The attacks often more satisfaction of the reviewer’s ego than personal (i.e. this is my opinion, here me roar), were the reviewer to actually meet and spend time with the author they bash, undoubtedly future reviews would be more objective, and if negative, at least constructive in their criticism. Such is the nature of learning to put yourself in other positions. “Uh-Oh City,” Jonathan Carroll’s superb 1992 novella, is a finely imagined and more eloquent manner of arriving at the same point. In fact, do yourself a favor and abandon this hack review and go read the novella.
For those who didn’t…
Professor Scott Silver is a man who has paid his dues. After a rough two decades living through lackluster university positions while trying to raise three children, he’s finally found a good place. His children are out of the house and a little bit of money has started to pile up—so much, in fact, he and his wife Roberta can hire a cleaning lady. The elderly but energetic Beenie Rushworth the first to answer their ad, she proves a blessing. Within days the house sparkles, places are clean that never had been before, even his books alphabetized. And she’s daring; tackling the rarely opened basement and garage, Beenie begins going through old boxes, helping the couple decide what they do and don’t want. But when Beenie starts dredging up bits and pieces of Scott’s life he thought he’d thrown away, instances from the past start to rear their ugly heads once again.
Like the American Christopher Priest with a touch less gravitas, in “Uh-Oh City” Carroll’s prose is deceptively lucid and precise; beneath the simple surface story hides layers of meaning both personal and universal. Effortlessy readable, the novella’s theme sneaks up on the reader subtly, eventually nipping at their own past thought lost or forgotten.
While the novella reminds me of work from writers like Priest, Neil Gaiman, Tim Powers, or James Blaylock, the short fiction of Peter Beagle is what most closely resembles “Uh-Oh City.” Most particularly the manner in which Judaism comes to play a role in story and theme, what first is easy reading becomes sharp-edged soul searching, no shortcuts, in the life of a man who thought he had everything going grand. One of life’s unavoidable incidents the trigger—something we all experience in some form or another, his world is shaken to its foundations, and from the rubble must seek a new path—the story ending nicely on a not so finite and not so ambiguous note.