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Author Topic: PC184: Black Swan, White Swan  (Read 2937 times)
Talia
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« on: November 22, 2011, 09:43:26 AM »

PodCastle 184: Black Swan, White Swan

by Eugie Foster

Read by Abra Staffin-Wiebe.

Originally Appeared in End of an Aeon.

Concentric circles lap beneath the dock’s wooden planks. A swan floats out, its shining plumage driving the water’s void back.

“There’s a man across the way.” The swan fixes Delia with polished onyx eyes. “Sometimes he’s a lighthouse and sometimes he’s a train, but silence doesn’t scare him.”

Delia stares at the luminous bird. “I don’t want a lighthouse or a train,” she says.

“Sometimes he’s a shelter in the rain.”

Delia studies the ripples that pass through the water’s surface in the swan’s wake.

“Don’t shut the door, it puts walls around you.” The swan dips its beak. “Call me the ocean, and I’ll change with the moon. You look right through me, but I can see the end of the storm.”

“Stop it.”

“Across the way there’s a man who holds questions without asking. A little peace of heart to guard with a stone wall,” the swan says. “Or a piece of heart guarded by stone walls. Let me in, and we can sing for nights.”

“Go away.”

The swan warbles, a musical wow-wo-ou. The wild cry startles Delia, and she takes a step back. Her foot catches on a knot jutting from the weathered planks; she unbalances, arms pinwheeling. As she tips into the icy lake, the swan takes wing, arrowing into the sky with a sweep of white feathers.

Black arms fold her to a black breast; the cold locks her lungs shut as water weights her limbs. Delia fights the embrace, even as she acknowledges her relief.


Rated R for language, sex.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: December 13, 2011, 09:55:47 AM by Talia » Logged
Leishalynn
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« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2011, 12:10:17 PM »

I was totally rooting for the black swan, the other ego was too sickly sweet for words. So glad she killed & died (in a way).
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #2 on: November 22, 2011, 03:42:36 PM »

I remain a little sick of sexual assault/abuse as the go-to tragedy of fiction. Yeah, it's sad, bad, and makes me mad and it happens way too often... but I'm a little bored of it. I know lots of people who are all messed up from very serious life trauma, and only a few of them were sexually assaulted. And yet, in fiction, it seems like you can't go three steps without tripping over a rape survivor, a rape victim, or a rape in progress, even in stories that don't really need it.

This story, for example - did the Swans really need to have been sexually assaulted? I don't think so. I think that there are lots of kinds of abuse that could have shattered her mind the way sexual assalut did.

Frankly, from that point of view, this story was kind of a tease. Her life was being explicated, I was getting a sense of her under pressure, dominated by an awful, domineering male figure. I was thinking "Oh, great! She's traumatized but it wasn't sexual!" And then, boom! Rape.

Again.

I'm just a little bored. I want to see more variety in traumatic backstories!

Anyway, other than that small frustration, I basically enjoyed this story. It was very well-written and very well-paced, the characters very well-explicated in a short period of time. I liked how the two characters sharing one body battled back and forth, and how it we gradually came to understand her condition.

I just would have loved it more if the trauma hadn't been so freaking typical!
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« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2011, 10:30:21 AM »

I loved the story! I was kinda hoping for a better ending like "Hey, sure you killed your dad and all, but baby you're like my soul mate and I'm a rich eccentric that can keep you in a castle on the hill--you can totally play the piano and not wear a mask all day long without worries! yay Money! Sure you killed my best friend, but hey, I gotta take a chopper back to town... we can work with this!"

Hmmm.... maybe not. Anyway I dug this story.
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« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2011, 10:31:28 AM »

This was awesome! I'm not usually one for a tragic ending, but this was tragedy done right. So knowledgeably musical too! Great story, would love to hear her sing...
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« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2011, 04:57:56 AM »

I was very up and down with this story maybe I wasn't in the mood for this sort of piece.

At times the prose felt overwrought, trying to hard to be "literary". ( That's a poor shorthand for what I mean but it will have to do ). What I did think was well done was the relation between the two males, that worked really well and I wanted to know more about them and their back story with the sister/fiancé and how Che (sp?) ended up living in his ivory tower on the lake reachable only by chopper.

The internal struggle of Delia/Adele was an interesting psychological drama but the addition of the fantasy transformation into a swan didn't add anything for me. You could have taken that out and it would have worked as well. ( Not sure how you'd end it mind other than with her thinking she was a swan and diving in to the lake to drown).

I guess comparisons could be drawn with the Natalie Portman film Black Swan as an example of how this idea can be played out, though that is not without its flaws.

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« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2011, 04:28:49 AM »

The swan thing was because of the traditional folk tale that was the basis for the piece.  There's tons of versions, but basically it goes: man finds wounded swan/crane/whatever, man takes home and heals, then later a mysterious woman appears, stays to be domestic for a while but gradually grows miserable, and the man either tries to force her to stay with tragic consequences or allows her to leave and feels all sad.

Relevant.

Also relevant.

I enjoyed this one a fair amount, but I would have to agree with Electric Paladin that the daddy-rape was a bit overkill.  One can be neurologically atypical without a tragic childhood, y'know?  I would rather have just had Delia/Adelle have DID without hauling out the child abuse card.
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« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2011, 09:14:35 AM »

I enjoyed this one a fair amount, but I would have to agree with Electric Paladin that the daddy-rape was a bit overkill.  One can be neurologically atypical without a tragic childhood, y'know?  I would rather have just had Delia/Adelle have DID without hauling out the child abuse card.

To be totally fair to the story, Dissociative Identity Disorder is incredibly unlikely without some kind of trauma. Honestly, there's evidence coming to light that even straight-up "organic" schizophrenia is rendered more likely by abuse and less likely by a healthy upbringing. But that trauma didn't have to be abuse and it didn't have to be sexual, so yeah.
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« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2011, 09:24:09 AM »

Well, yeah.  But you can do lots of different kinds of trauma, y'know?  How about a bad acid trip or something?  I dunno. 

There's a lot of children getting unwanted educations in fiction, is all I'm saying.
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Talia
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« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2011, 09:29:12 AM »

I donno though. It seems to me abuse is the most likely cause of trauma, thus the most "realistic" as it were. Why stretch it? The story isn't about what happened to her; it's about her state of being and action in the present. Coming up with some less-likely trauma scenario would focus attention on the past rather than present, IMHO.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #10 on: November 28, 2011, 11:48:47 AM »

I donno though. It seems to me abuse is the most likely cause of trauma, thus the most "realistic" as it were. Why stretch it? The story isn't about what happened to her; it's about her state of being and action in the present. Coming up with some less-likely trauma scenario would focus attention on the past rather than present, IMHO.

Yeah, but is sexual abuse the most likely cause of trauma? Is childhood abuse the only possible cause of trauma? I don't have statistics, myself. I know that childhood sexual abuse is depressingly common. I know that rape is infuriatingly common. However, neither certainly isn't more common than every other freaking cause of trauma on Earth put together. That's what it sometimes looks like in fiction.

Anyway, I did write my other reactions, as has everyone else. That said, I think the background is as valid a part of the story to respond to and criticize as anything else. It provides a context that informs the rest of the story.
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« Reply #11 on: November 28, 2011, 02:01:52 PM »

The swan thing was because of the traditional folk tale that was the basis for the piece.  There's tons of versions, but basically it goes: man finds wounded swan/crane/whatever, man takes home and heals, then later a mysterious woman appears, stays to be domestic for a while but gradually grows miserable, and the man either tries to force her to stay with tragic consequences or allows her to leave and feels all sad.


Ah this had passed me by. Not come across these folk tales. It makes a bit more sense about why it was the theme of the story but still overall I think this element didn't add that much to it.
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« Reply #12 on: November 30, 2011, 09:48:38 AM »

This story was okay.  I didn't really see the point of the swans speculative element.  Like Electric Paladin I was hoping for a different backstory.  Most of all though, I just really didn't care what happened to any of them.  They all felt more like forces of nature than real people.  Delia meek and excessively passive and never seizing what she wants, Adela aggressive and always seizing what she wants, the doctor who claims to have a set of morals but abandons them at the first opportunity, and the roommate who is apparently there to just give some token conflict.  I didn't want to root for any of them, and even if I did there was nothing in particular to root for them to do.  She just had to get better, and it seemed to me that nobody really meant anybody else any harm, or wished to impede anyone else (except perhaps between Adela and Delia, but mostly they seemed to be coexisting well enough).  I was waiting for some conflict, and for something to root for, but that never came.

Did anyone else wonder if the roommate was gay and in love with the doctor?  I'm not sure exactly why I thought that.  When he was trying to warn Adela off, I got that sense for no reason I've been able to pinpoint.  He seemed like either a jealous ex-lover, or perhaps a jealous man with an unrequited crush.  Maybe I was just reaching, looking for something to draw my attention.

The split personality here reminded me a lot of Detta Walker/Odetta Holmes in Stephen King's "The Drawing of the Three".  In this particular case, though, I found it hard to remember which name applied to which of the personalities.  I found it easier in King's work,  I think because each had different last names and so I differentiated more based on the surname than the given name.


The swan thing was because of the traditional folk tale that was the basis for the piece.  There's tons of versions, but basically it goes: man finds wounded swan/crane/whatever, man takes home and heals, then later a mysterious woman appears, stays to be domestic for a while but gradually grows miserable, and the man either tries to force her to stay with tragic consequences or allows her to leave and feels all sad.

Ah, I hadn't heard of the swan variation.  I was more familliar with the Selkies (linked from the Swan Maiden page on Wikipedia), where it's a seal.  Also, the semi-recent Podcastle story "Gone Daddy Gone" was based on the same legend as far as I can tell.


I remain a little sick of sexual assault/abuse as the go-to tragedy of fiction. Yeah, it's sad, bad, and makes me mad and it happens way too often... but I'm a little bored of it. I know lots of people who are all messed up from very serious life trauma, and only a few of them were sexually assaulted. And yet, in fiction, it seems like you can't go three steps without tripping over a rape survivor, a rape victim, or a rape in progress, even in stories that don't really need it.

This story, for example - did the Swans really need to have been sexually assaulted? I don't think so. I think that there are lots of kinds of abuse that could have shattered her mind the way sexual assalut did.

That makes me think of when I bought a copy of Glimmer Train in 2009, and a copy of Zoetrope to find out what magazines that styled themselves as "literary" were publishing.  I wrote a review of it that had a list of things that were true of pretty much every story in the two magazines (a couple dozen stories and they were basically all variations of the same).  I did find one story that I enjoyed in the group that broke the mold and actually managed to be enjoyable.  Sadly, that story was something like 90 years old, F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", which wasn't particularly deep but was good for a chuckle.  Of the list of things that all the other stories had in common:

7. The stories all had a tone and them of “Woe is me ain’t my life terrible”. It’s easy enough to find these stories on the news, do I really need to seek out fiction that does the same thing? And I really hope the proportion of protagonists who hate their lives isn’t proportional to real people who hate their lives, else we are all in a lot of trouble!

8. Not in every story, but maybe 1/4 to 1/2, pedophilia is an element, whether it’s explicit sex or just creepy looks from teenagers’ dads.
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« Reply #13 on: November 30, 2011, 10:20:12 AM »

I mostly spent this story watching it unfold and going "ou, look! preeeettyyyy" Smiley This is sort of what I was hoping Black Swan would be, before I decided to not watch it based on friends' reviews. Overall, I enjoyed the ride, but I think that the first and last scenes are what I will ultimately remember, if anything.

@Unblinking: I listen to Selected Shorts for my "literary" fiction and find it does not focus too heavily on the "woe is me" side of the genre. It's a weekly 1-hour podcast that might be worth checking out.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #14 on: November 30, 2011, 06:27:43 PM »

*sigh* Maybe it's just having seen "Black Swan" too recently, but the whole thing was just so.... cliche. The Bad Girl/Good Girl personae, the Romantic Doctor.... just didn't do much for me.

I always like hearing Alisdair though.


Did anyone else wonder if the roommate was gay and in love with the doctor? 

No. Sometimes a single guy in a story is just a single guy. :-)
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #15 on: November 30, 2011, 06:32:07 PM »

Did anyone else wonder if the roommate was gay and in love with the doctor?  I'm not sure exactly why I thought that.  When he was trying to warn Adela off, I got that sense for no reason I've been able to pinpoint.  He seemed like either a jealous ex-lover, or perhaps a jealous man with an unrequited crush.  Maybe I was just reaching, looking for something to draw my attention.

Yes. I wondered. Personally, I like that sort of plot thread, though I'm not disappointed that it wasn't explored. It wasn't really within the scope of this story.
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« Reply #16 on: December 01, 2011, 09:46:12 AM »

Once I was able to get past the present-tense telling of the story (which works a lot better in text than in audio) I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My response to hearing about the daddy-rape-murder thing was to sort of shrug. "Yes, a childhood trauma would split the psyche, and that is the standard one we see in fiction. Good to know, but I was OK without having it spelled out to me."

To me this story was about beauty, the characters were sort of side elements. The constant descriptions and counters of white/black, the protag's search for color and constantly returning to her "white nest". The types of materials in the house, the lake.... all of it merged together to form a sort of song (swan song? hah!), an ode to beauty which contrasted with the starkness of the protag.
I got the sense that all the female characters in the story were sort of woven together, whether purposely or accidentally, just listen to the names: Lydia, Delia, Adelle.

But my absolute favorite part was when she turned into not one but two swans. (Although I didn't need it to be spelled out so explicitly, it was quite clear to me what had happened). See, every time a person turns into a very large or very small animal something inside me cringes and screams "conservation of mass!". I usually shut it up by saying that the laws of magic are no less stringent than the laws of physics, but it sounds weak.
However, in this case it works, a not large woman would be more or less of equal mass to two swans.
And that of course got me to wondering whether one needs to split the psyche in order to turn into smaller animals, and how that would go a long way towards explaining vampires (swarms of bats, tiny little shards of shattered psyche...). Have you ever wondered why they are so snobbish, predictable and when you get right down to it, stupid? (I am not referring to vampires that sparkle, as far as I'm concerned that never happened) It comes from having a swarm mind residing in a single body.
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« Reply #17 on: December 02, 2011, 12:00:09 PM »

While I found the story pleasant enough to listen to as an episode of PC, I really didn't actively like it. It very much felt like the kind of 90s fiction that turned me off to the genre for many years: too many allegories, too many descriptions, too much poetic language, obligatory sex scenes (I happen to like those, but, I'm just saying, it felt obligatory), and the other issues already mentioned -- romantic rich doctor, DID, etc.

By the way... if you'd just fallen into an icy lake and then been resuscitated, intubated, and IV'd up, I don't care if it's been a week or 10 days (I forget how long she was in a coma), you wouldn't be hot. You'd probably be a little thin, have hollows under your eyes despite a lot of sleep, etc... I mean, we all don't look like guest stars on Grey's Anatomy post-surgery. I'm _not_ hot, but a day after surgery, I took a picture of myself and I looked miserable -- exhausted, rings under my eyes, hair all messed up, unable to shower due to the incision on my stomach... and it only got worse from there. And I didn't even die; I was just unconscious (anaesthetic). So, Ben's comment of "I know she's hot" annoyed me.

So, yeah. I guess the story was okay, but I didn't like it.
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« Reply #18 on: December 05, 2011, 02:49:40 AM »

By the way... if you'd just fallen into an icy lake and then been resuscitated, intubated, and IV'd up, I don't care if it's been a week or 10 days (I forget how long she was in a coma), you wouldn't be hot. You'd probably be a little thin, have hollows under your eyes despite a lot of sleep, etc... I mean, we all don't look like guest stars on Grey's Anatomy post-surgery. I'm _not_ hot, but a day after surgery, I took a picture of myself and I looked miserable -- exhausted, rings under my eyes, hair all messed up, unable to shower due to the incision on my stomach... and it only got worse from there. And I didn't even die; I was just unconscious (anaesthetic). So, Ben's comment of "I know she's hot" annoyed me.
The simple answer is that being doctors, and seeing patients like this all the time, they may have a different aesthetic than you or I.
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« Reply #19 on: December 06, 2011, 11:36:24 AM »

By the way... if you'd just fallen into an icy lake and then been resuscitated, intubated, and IV'd up, I don't care if it's been a week or 10 days (I forget how long she was in a coma), you wouldn't be hot. You'd probably be a little thin, have hollows under your eyes despite a lot of sleep, etc... I mean, we all don't look like guest stars on Grey's Anatomy post-surgery. I'm _not_ hot, but a day after surgery, I took a picture of myself and I looked miserable -- exhausted, rings under my eyes, hair all messed up, unable to shower due to the incision on my stomach... and it only got worse from there. And I didn't even die; I was just unconscious (anaesthetic). So, Ben's comment of "I know she's hot" annoyed me.
The simple answer is that being doctors, and seeing patients like this all the time, they may have a different aesthetic than you or I.

Well, I've failed at coming up with a suitable analogy, but that explanation makes no sense to me whatsoever. Tongue
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« Reply #20 on: December 06, 2011, 11:55:41 AM »

By the way... if you'd just fallen into an icy lake and then been resuscitated, intubated, and IV'd up, I don't care if it's been a week or 10 days (I forget how long she was in a coma), you wouldn't be hot. You'd probably be a little thin, have hollows under your eyes despite a lot of sleep, etc... I mean, we all don't look like guest stars on Grey's Anatomy post-surgery. I'm _not_ hot, but a day after surgery, I took a picture of myself and I looked miserable -- exhausted, rings under my eyes, hair all messed up, unable to shower due to the incision on my stomach... and it only got worse from there. And I didn't even die; I was just unconscious (anaesthetic). So, Ben's comment of "I know she's hot" annoyed me.
The simple answer is that being doctors, and seeing patients like this all the time, they may have a different aesthetic than you or I.

Well, I've failed at coming up with a suitable analogy, but that explanation makes no sense to me whatsoever. Tongue

The children I teach are fully obnoctified - this does not actually make me think that obnoxious children are adorable. I'm just very patient.
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« Reply #21 on: December 06, 2011, 12:21:06 PM »

The simple answer is that being doctors, and seeing patients like this all the time, they may have a different aesthetic than you or I.

See, to me sick people just look like work.
Why would I bring my work home with me? Yech. This is not to say that I don't like my patients but sexing them up just after they get out of my personal ICU prison? Ewwww. Yeah, there's something way wrong with those two MDs.
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« Reply #22 on: December 06, 2011, 03:29:42 PM »

The simple answer is that being doctors, and seeing patients like this all the time, they may have a different aesthetic than you or I.

See, to me sick people just look like work.
Why would I bring my work home with me? Yech. This is not to say that I don't like my patients but sexing them up just after they get out of my personal ICU prison? Ewwww. Yeah, there's something way wrong with those two MDs.

When Ben appeared and started being all bro-like, I thought the two doctors were going to be swans as well. Ben black and Shea white.
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« Reply #23 on: December 06, 2011, 05:33:41 PM »

By the way... if you'd just fallen into an icy lake and then been resuscitated, intubated, and IV'd up, I don't care if it's been a week or 10 days (I forget how long she was in a coma), you wouldn't be hot. You'd probably be a little thin, have hollows under your eyes despite a lot of sleep, etc... I mean, we all don't look like guest stars on Grey's Anatomy post-surgery. I'm _not_ hot, but a day after surgery, I took a picture of myself and I looked miserable -- exhausted, rings under my eyes, hair all messed up, unable to shower due to the incision on my stomach... and it only got worse from there. And I didn't even die; I was just unconscious (anaesthetic). So, Ben's comment of "I know she's hot" annoyed me.
The simple answer is that being doctors, and seeing patients like this all the time, they may have a different aesthetic than you or I.

Well, I've failed at coming up with a suitable analogy, but that explanation makes no sense to me whatsoever. Tongue

The children I teach are fully obnoctified - this does not actually make me think that obnoxious children are adorable. I'm just very patient.
I dunno. It didn't seem weird to me at the time, and it still doesn't. People's tastes are purely subjective, and the environment can and does have a strong influence on it. Just because you (plural) don't see how the doctors could be attracted to their patient doesn't mean that they can't be.
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« Reply #24 on: December 08, 2011, 07:57:19 PM »

OK, much to my surprise I seem to be in the minority on this one.  I absolutely LOVED this story.  I thought the writing was beautiful, and the ending just sealed the deal for me. 

I loved the story so much I immediately went and shared it on Google+. 

Then I went and shared it on Facebook. 

Then I went through the space-time rift in the back of my clothes closet forward in time to share it on social networking sites that don't exist yet.

Then I went back through the rift to Ancient Greece to share it with them. Last time I do that though.  My Ionic Greek is far too rusty and trying to explain Creative Commons licensing to the Ancient Greeks was Hell (or Tartarus in this case).
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« Reply #25 on: February 06, 2012, 11:12:00 AM »

This was a pretty story, but I was confused by the swan element. Like Listener, I thought that Shea was the white swan (not Ben, though) and Adele/Delia was the black swan. I thought that right up to the very end, when the two swans fly off and I thought, awww...well, at least they're together. Then it showed Shea on the ground and I thought, wait, what?

I guess I need to read this one to catch the nuances. I also wished to listen to the piano pieces, since the only one I recognized was Ave Maria.
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