I spent a lot of the afternoon reading the most recent issue of susurrus: the literature of madness. Most of the stories had strong surreal elements. I’m ambivalent about this. I like speculative fiction, and I like weird stories, but I also want a strong feeling of connection between events. I like plots that make sense.
The stories I particularly liked really held onto plot, while reserving their surrealism mostly for setting and color. In R. Thomas Hogg’s “Sine Nomine,” for example, a woman loses her name, and asks the narrator to help her find it. They’re in a strange location — a long and seemingly unending staircase. But if you ignore these specifics, the plot is fairly straightforward: two people are searching for something that is lost. Personally, I like this kind of setup. It gives the author room to get as weird as he wants without losing the reader. Because I understood the basics of what was going on, I was OK with characters appearing and disappearing, and with people speaking strangely. Hogg is freed by the simple structure of his story. For example, he writes:
“What kind of name is it? That might help us.”
The drawn woman lets go. She creases her brow. “It’s a silky name. Not tinny or woody.”
“French, maybe? Or Russian?”
When you’re searching for something, of course you need details about it. The actual details, when they come, are strange and poetic, and I enjoy wondering what a “silky” name sounds like.