“The Woman in the Window” by Jameson Currier from The Haunted Heart and Other Tales, Chelsea Station Editions 2014. Originally published by Lethe Press, 2009.
Well, this is startling. I read this story as part of Wilde Stories 2008 and because of that was so certain I’d already reviewed it, I skipped it when I was crafting my plan for the end of this project. It was only when I went to look up what the number assigned to it was, in order to note it here (what was to be a review of the second story in this anthology), that I realized my error.
Unless I find another such error exactly opposite in nature to this one, I will have one too many reviews. Now, the last story is a stand-alone, so I guess I could just make it the first post to follow the project, but I had my heart set on having that story be its official end. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Even more troubling, in searching for the non-existent, already-written review of this story I realized I have not reviewed a single edition of the Wilde Stories series, even though I own and have read every one from 2008 to 2012. How did that happen? I mean, it’s true that sometimes I’ve had to skip a collection because I just could not wrap my mind around how to review a story contained in its pages. That was the case with Best Gay Stories 2011. I liked all the stories in it, and was especially fond of “Diana Comet and the Lovesick Cowboy” by Sandra McDonald, “Tell Me What You Love and I’ll Tell You What You Are” by Steve Berman, and “July 2002”* by this author, but another story eluded me, at least as far as how I would write a review of it. Was that also the case with Wilde Stories 2008? Scanning the ToC, I don’t recall any such difficulties, but it’s possible.
In his introduction to this collection the author says he made a conscious effort to “incorporate contemporary gay issues within the format of a traditional ghost story”, a laudable goal because, as he goes on to say, it’s important for gay readers to see honest depictions of their lives in pop culture. That’s a sentiment I wholeheartedly support. #WeNeedDiverseBooks, as the Twitterverse says. Every bit as much, though, I appreciated his candor regarding his writing process – the revelation that some stories came tumbling out fully formed once all the puzzle pieces were in place in his mind, while others had to be painstakingly unearthed from multiple drafts over a course of years.
Like readers, writers need to feel they are not alone.
The main character of this story, Tom, travels a lot and has collected snow globes as souvenirs for quite some time. He’s passed his love for them on to his son, Justin, and to a lesser extent his daughter, Claire. I’m not sure how I should refer to Allan. Is he Tom’s husband? Partner? Significant other? The line that introduces him, “By the time Allan and I set up house together” doesn’t provide the answer and there are no indications following that, but you get the idea. This is a family.
They’re also suburbanites. The parents have white collar jobs, the kids are in elementary school. Their problems are ones to which most anyone could relate, mainly work anxieties and the fear of not being a good enough parent, or of repeating your own parents’ mistakes. Despite those fears, Tom and Allan are doing a nice job of parenting. This is a family that eats dinner together. After the kids are sent off to bed the adults watch a little television and then turn in for the night themselves. That solid footing in the mundane is what makes this story deliciously creepy. Home is supposed to be safe space, sacred ground, and there’s nothing more frightening than being unable to protect the people you hold most dear.
The latest snow globe Tom brought back for Justin has some unusual properties. The snow keeps swirling even when no one has recently disturbed it, and shadowy figures appear in an upper window of the replica three-story Victorian home inside. Tom finds excuses for all of it, refusing to give in to the idea that supernatural forces are at work. Even after he hears odd sounds during the night, and Justin and Allan begin having nightmares, and Claire suddenly starts talking to imaginary friends, he refuses to let fear take control.
The creepiness factor steadily ratchets up, and it’s always contrasted by entirely relatable elements. Just as promised, though, this isn’t simply a scary tale. As events unfold a deeper, social justice-inspired theme emerges: This is how it is for us; here’s how it was for people before us; and our deepest fear is that we will be dragged backward into that hell. I appreciated that aspect a great deal.
*I was able to review “July 2002” as part of Best Gay Romance 2013. See Short Stories 365/22.