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Author Topic: PC271: Nightfall in the Scent Garden  (Read 2909 times)
Talia
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« on: July 31, 2013, 09:08:15 PM »

PodCastle 271: Nightfall in the Scent Garden/b]

by Claire Humphrey.

Read by Kara Grace.

Originally appeared in Strange Horizons, March 2012. Read the text there.

If you read this, you’ll tell me what grew over the arbor was ivy, not wisteria. If you are in a forgiving mood, you’ll open the envelope, and you’ll remind me how your father’s van broke down and we were late back. How we sat drinking iced tea while the radiator steamed.

You might dig out that picture, the one with the two of us sitting on the willow stump, and point out how small we were, how pudgy, how like any other pair of schoolgirls. How our ill-cut hair straggled over the shoulders of our flannel shirts.

You’ll remind me of the stories we used to tell each other. We spent hours embroidering them, improving on each other’s inventions. We built palaces and peopled them with dynasties, you’ll say, and we made ourselves emperors in every one, and every one was false.

If you read this, you’ll call your mother, or mine. They’ll confirm what you recall.

By then, though, you will begin to disbelieve it yourself.

If you think on it long enough, you’ll recall the kiss. I left it there untouched, the single thread you could pull to unravel this whole tapestry.

You’ll start to understand none of these things happened the way you remember. If you read this, you’ll learn how I betrayed you.


Rated R for sexual content.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: August 20, 2013, 09:03:40 AM by Talia » Logged
Moritz
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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2013, 12:12:16 PM »

Noone yet? Well, I am a bit reluctant to post first because I am not sure I got the story. Listened to it twice, but the feeling remains that there is something I didn't get. Maybe it was too melancholic/ depressing for my taste, I don't know.
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jpv
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« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2013, 12:36:14 PM »

I'm not entirely sure that I got it either. So far as I can tell, the narrator and her friend love remember those events of so long ago somewhat differently. I'd say it's left up to the reader whether the narrator has not grown out of her childhood tales (or if she really believes them herself) or if she really did rewrite her friends memory some how. I'm not sure exactly why it came about though or what the Queen of Air's motivation was. Perhaps just more storytelling gone dark in teenage years?

I'm vaguely confused by the rating. It says R for sexual content. Did I miss something? About the most risque thing I remember was a kiss and third hand tales of sitting on someone's lap. That's about it.

Overall, I feel like it was missing something. The problem I have with short stories is that I almost always want to know more. This is definitely one of those cases. Did something really happen? Was it all just a story from long ago? I don't know, but I want to! Smiley

Also the narration was a bit unfortunate (although it's mostly on my end). I listen to these while I'm driving through my car's aux port and the narrator's high pitched voice did not play nicely with my speakers. It was a little better when I unplugged and used my devices speaker's directly, if rather too quiet. I'm sure headphones would have been better as well.
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zoanon
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« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2013, 02:58:40 PM »

my heart hurrrtttssss
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Father Beast
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« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2013, 06:13:02 PM »

I also had to change the settings on my truck stereo in order to hear it. I'm not sure how well I did at that. For instance, I'm not sure what would have happened if she didn't make the bargain with the queen.

Without that, this boils down to a story of a girl who spends her life stuck in the "Friend Zone". Unrequited Love fails to interest me. Yes, I've experienced it often enough in my life, but that doesn't make the people who pay heed to the feeling any less whiny.
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LadiesAndGentleman
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« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2013, 11:20:22 PM »

I thought this story was gorgeous.  Lovely prose, wonderful themes, and every once in a while, I'm in the mood for a story about heartbreak.  This was also a fantastic take on fairies.  The way magic is used here really grabbed me.

Without that, this boils down to a story of a girl who spends her life stuck in the "Friend Zone". Unrequited Love fails to interest me. Yes, I've experienced it often enough in my life, but that doesn't make the people who pay heed to the feeling any less whiny.

This story was beautiful to me, but this is a good point. I sympathized with the main character, but there didn't seem to be much she was doing to change her situation.  Throwing away your life over a childhood sweetheart who didn't return your affection is a terrible thing. 

But I think the narrative is aware of this.  The main character is not a paragon of emotional maturity.  In fact, I wondered if the "Queen of Air" part of this story is a delusion cultivated to make her obsession feel acceptable. 
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Whiskerwing
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« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2013, 04:26:24 PM »

I thought this was gorgeous, and beautifully read in a voice that heightened the youthful bittersweet tone of the story. I know enough about fae tales to have caught the hints about what was really going on.

The unrequited love plotline and the character weaknesses are valid concerns (and I certainly wouldn't want a steady diet of stories like this), but I felt that it skillfully crafted the mood, weaving the fantasy throughout in a haunting way.
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starfall
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« Reply #7 on: August 04, 2013, 02:45:07 PM »

I can certainly understand some people's confusion on what this one was about. I had to go over it in my head a few times after the story was over, however here was my interpretation. It seemed like the "queen of air" was some form of the grim reaper or death. I got the notion that perhaps the other girl had tried to kill herself (or was dieing of some injury or ailment, this was unclear. There were undertones of abuse by the father/stepfather so that's where I got suicide.) and that the protagonist made a bargain to bring her back to life and wipe her memory of the incident, in exchange for serving time in some kind of hell analogue. The tension came from the fact that through the years the girl not only does not return the protagonists love but distances herself as much as she can, which is understanable since to her eyes the protagonist is a bit emo and obsesive. While this rejection is happening, the protagionist seems to hold the power in her hands to break the bargain, and let the girl die at any time. This would allow her to avoid her fate "under the hill" (read: hell of some kind), but she hasnt been able to do it because of this fading and unrequited love for her. It seems like this is the last desperate letter to get the girls input on whether she should break the bargain or not, because it seems like the protagonist has reached her limit on waiting in the freind zone. What do you do when you have made a sacrifice for somone who does not know it, and begins to make the sacrifice not worth the cost to you. Its not thier fault, they dont know what you did for them, but you are sacrificing your happiness for thiers. are you cruel or justified in ending your suffering for thier sake? Over all I did like the story once I had some time to think about it. Im still trying to decide if that made it nicely subtle, or a little too opaque in the first place...
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evrgrn_monster
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« Reply #8 on: August 04, 2013, 07:28:03 PM »

I'm here to voice my consensus with the rest of the thread; this one left me going "huh?" I'll be honest though, I wasn't a big fan of the other story this author did for PodCastle, so I did start off biased towards not liking this piece. It didn't really change my mind at any point.

I felt like the story was too clever and symbolic for it's own good; if your story is so veiled and mysterious that no one understands what the story is actually trying to say, I don't consider it a victory. I mean, the imagery was pretty, and I tried quite hard to follow the character and what exactly it was that had happened to her, but after a second listen, I didn't think it was worth the effort I was putting in.

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Devoted135
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« Reply #9 on: August 06, 2013, 02:17:33 PM »

I disagree with Anna's assertion that each of the three stories by Claire Humphrey that PodCastle has run has been notably different. PC173 Who in Mortal Chains was quite different, but this story and PC248 Bleaker Collegiate... are startlingly similar. Both feature a mystically menaced young female protagonist who is literally suffering for/alongside of her unrequited love. In both cases the nature of the mystical element is obscured behind metaphor and atmosphere (though this story is less obscured than the last). And both rely on the richness of the atmosphere created rather than a story in the traditional sense.

That sounds fairly negative, and I don't mean it to be as critical as it sounds. I liked PC248 fairly well, and thought that its riff on Waiting for Godot made the stylistic choices fit very well. Here though, I'm less inclined to say "that was clever" and more inclined to say that it didn't work for me, and I think that a large part of that is the style rather than the content of the story.
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flintknapper
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« Reply #10 on: August 08, 2013, 06:06:50 AM »

I thought the author did a good job using our senses of smell, touch, and taste very effectively in the narrative descriptions. However, like many on this forum, the stylized writing lost me several times and I had to really focus to follow the plot. In that sense, the story was a triumph of form over substance. It wasn't bad, but for me it also wasn't incredibly memorable. Starfall, I think provides a good interpretation.
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Procyon
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« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2013, 05:34:34 PM »

I was ready to dislike this story.  When I heard that it was by the same author as "Bleaker Collegiate Presents," I steeled myself.  Not because that one was a bad story per se, but it seemed not to actually, you know, be in the fantasy genre. It reminded me of an old bartending joke about how a proper dry martini has merely been struck by a beam of sunlight passing through a bottle of vermouth.  "Bleaker Collegiate Presents" had felt a ray of fantasy across its surface, but no more.  So I prepared myself.  And it didn't do anything to help the situation when it appeared that the two main characters were, once again, young women, possibly in love, discovering themselves, and the pangs, OH the pangs, etc.

But you know what?  As it unfolded I started to realize that it was beautiful.  Cast in the grandiose light that seems to color all things in adolescence, the emotions rang true and the narrator's world enveloped me.  There surely was a time when we all felt our kisses were as vast and intricate as icebergs, our true names written books of grand destinies.  So this was good.

Here is the thing though: I don't actually think this is fantasy either.  Even less so than "Bleaker."  I don't think The Queen is real.  Not the Queen, not the bargain, not the hundred years under the hill, none of it.  It's all in her imagination.  Which is what is so great about this: it's not a fantasy, it's a meta-fantasy.  "Nightfall in the Scent Garden" is a story about someone's imagination.  Unrequited love, yeah, sure, fine, I've had it, you've had it, I've read about it, you've read about it, that's great.  But here we have an imagination story, a narrative fantasy entwined with a life, that evolves along with that life.  And our narrator lets someone else into that fantasy, cracks the door of her mind to her, a little.  This connection, brief and bright, is the source of the love and its undoing the source of the trauma.  And the narrator's daydream saga, as real to her as "real person" Eric and the "world in which you live," is what elevates this story, for me.

So, that's all.  I can see why people wouldn't like it.  And maybe that's the curse of these hyper-emotional, plotless poetics: if they resonate at your frequency, which this one did for me, you are swept away.  If not, you don't see what all the trouble is about.
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Whiskerwing
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« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2013, 10:37:05 AM »

maybe that's the curse of these hyper-emotional, plotless poetics: if they resonate at your frequency, which this one did for me, you are swept away.  If not, you don't see what all the trouble is about.

Sometimes I wish there was a +1 or Like button on these comments.
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« Reply #13 on: August 27, 2013, 12:00:47 PM »

Well, I loved "Bleaker Collegiate," and I loved this one, too.  It was brilliant and subtle, like a line of seed pearls sewn into an intricate tapestry, such that you don't even see them until something shifts the cloth and you catch the gleam.  The prick of a decision regretted is sharpened when that decision remains reversible.  This was a snapshot of a tumbledown building just as the roof-beams begin to shift; something is going to break soon.

+10, more like this please.
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« Reply #14 on: October 17, 2013, 04:16:42 PM »

The prose was pretty, but I found it about as easy to discern meaning from this as from ocean sounds.  I don't seem to have any memory of what happened and I think it's because it put me in a half-doze.
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Gary
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« Reply #15 on: October 30, 2013, 09:10:43 AM »

I'm sorry but the OVERWHELMING sentiment I am left with in this story is "STALKER".

If this was a GUY who kept badgering a girl he has had a crush on since they were grade school kids and now she no longer wants anything to do with him  (he keeps sending her letters she obviously doesn't want, she won't see him or return his calls when she is in town), yet she has become the sole focus of his life, he has even invented a phantom that he can blame his actions on  ...
Yes, if this was a GUY who did all these things instead of a GIRL ... this story would have ended up on Pseudopod.

Why is it "romantic" for a girl to a have this sort of obsession on another girl but "creepy" when it is a guy? Huh
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Scattercat
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« Reply #16 on: October 31, 2013, 12:40:35 AM »

What in the world makes you think it's not creepy when it's a girl?
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Gary
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« Reply #17 on: October 31, 2013, 11:49:33 AM »

What in the world makes you think it's not creepy when it's a girl?
I think it's creepy. The sense of reaction I see from others seems to lean towards (and I am not quoting anyone here directly), "Unrequited love, how sadly bitter sweet."
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