Chism’s (Medea Royal, 2016) short story collection focuses on the feminine experience, using protagonists based on old myths in modern settings.
This mixed bag of mythical retellings has a strong sense of place in the Deep South, and the tales tackle issues of gender discrimination, religious oppression, and inequality. “Medea Royal,” for example, takes a close look at the classic figure from the epic poem Argonautica as an opera singer/serial killer—a promising premise that yields a sometimes-clever recasting. However, it’s muddled by heavy-handed proclamations on the evils of organized religion, the importance of reproductive rights, and the damage of the patriarchy. Explorations of such issues can enrich a narrative and deliver important, timely commentary, but Medea, as presented here, is merely a vehicle for that exploration, rather than the nuanced villain that she could have been. The prose is uneven in these tales—sometimes sharp and other times stodgy, and the dialogue can be stilted at times. However, some do feature intriguing ideas, executed with care, and handle their settings, plot, and characterization quite beautifully. A story of an old woman haunted by the ghosts of the victims of 19th-century killer Madame LaLaurie, for instance, seems as if it’s right out of a Joe Hill horror collection. The title work takes a look at the Greek Muses’ mother, who raises nine girls alone and succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease near the end of her life. It’s perhaps the strongest story in the entire collection, and it effectively examines motherhood, the demands placed on single working mothers, and the realities of dementia. Each daughter is a vibrant, fully realized character, and Chism succinctly establishes their relationships with their mother.
Earnest tales with interesting ideas but uneven follow-through.