Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Short Story Spotlight: "Conjure"

"Conjure" by Alice Hoffman (Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury)

Practical Magic scribe Alice Hoffman's exemplary entry in the 2012 tribute anthology Shadow Show reads like a bewitching mix of Something Wicked This Way Comes (significantly, one of the teen female leads checks the book out of the town library at the start of the story) and Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?".  A seemingly magic-realist opening swerves into blacker territory as the protagonists Abbey and Cate's search for an angel rumored to have crashed down into a field during a thunderstorm instead uncovers a sinister and seductive male figure.  This tattooed and black-jacketed false charmer (a putative relative of one of the townspeople) is no doubt the second coming of Bradbury's Mr. Dark (indeed, the word "dark" buzzes throughout the tale).  Lowell, whose very name hints at baseness, poses a dire threat to the girls both individually and as a pair of longtime companions.

"Conjure" serves as an apt label for Hoffman's magical evocation here.  The intertextual echoes of Bradbury's classic novel resound, as the story explores themes of friendship and betrayal, innocence and experience, light and darkness (the love for the voluminous wonders of a local library also carries over and proves subtly integral to the outcome).  Yet Hoffman succeeds as well in giving a clever twist to her source material: by flipping the genders of Bradbury's iconic boy-characters Will and Jim, she adds an overt element of sexual predation to the villainy.  

Beautifully written and perfectly plotted (facts which become more evident upon each subsequent reading), "Conjure" is sure to delight fans who have a penchant for hearkening back to Bradbury's work at this time of year.  Shadow Show contains many commendable offerings, but is worth the price of purchase for Hoffman's marvelous short story alone. 

No comments: