Friday, July 7, 2017

A Closer Look at "Gilded Cage," by Kacey Ezell, and RED on Friday

This is going to be a shorter post than usual.

First, somehow, I forgot today is Friday. No excuse. Just forgot.

And along with that, I forgot it was therefore RED Friday. I always want to remember that, because it matters.

Right now, there are thousands of sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers who cannot be with the rest of their families on this summer day, because they are doing their part in the Armed Forces to keep us safe in our homes.

They are Deployed.

So: RED: Remember Everyone Deployed. Wear RED on Friday. Until they ALL come home.

And now, a CLOSER LOOK at "Gilded Cage," the creepiest story in the 'Fistful of Credits' anthology I reviewed this morning. There are others that deserve a closer look; in fact, I'd have to confess that they ALL deserve a closer. Particularly, not gonna go there. I was going to mention 'Legends' by Christopher Woods, but if I did, then I'd also mention...STOP THE MADNESS!

See, this is why I LOVE the short story form as a reader, but I hate it as a reviewer.  Whenever I review a collection of short stories, it almost always takes me longer to write the review than it does to read the stories. If you are a reviewer, you know what I'm talking about. Otherwise, you think I'm nuts. How hard is it to review a few thousand words?

So, I'm going to give you an AUTHENTIC review of 'Gilded Cage,' and let you see for yourself.

Here's what I wrote this morning:
This is, in my opinion, the CREEPIEST story in the book. The protagonist does all the wrong things for all the right reasons, and there is never any point at which a reasonable observer would shout "LOOK OUT! DON'T DO THAT!" It brings a different point of view to the understanding that humans have in the scheme of things in the new universe.
 And here's what I wanted to write:

"I've seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone,
But every junkie's like the setting sun..."
(Neil Young, 1972)

It's only after several re-reads of the story that I confirm it: we don't even know the gender of the junkie in the alley until well into the story. That's significant; it's something she has forfeited, along with everything else, in exchange for the simplified life: she is only concerned about obtaining the next fix.

It's clear that she has long abandoned any pretense of respectability. She has exchanged access to her body for the chance of another hit.

Access to her body: normally, that's a euphemism for prostitution, but with two phrases, Ezell suggests it's something even worse.

I’d lost a lot of blood there at the end, when things had gotten really wild.
I crossed my arms over my chest, tucking my wasted hands underneath my armpits, letting them hide in the nest of rags that was all Ghat’s party guests had left of my clothing.

She reports these things as simple facts; there is no suggestion of outrage. She even considers herself lucky to have gotten the good stuff. You can't get a much better depiction of the depths of addiction, no matter how many words you use. I've read "Confessions of an English Opium Reader" and "The Naked Lunch" and "The Lost Weekend," among others.  You can use MORE words, describe MORE scenes, but those two sentences convey the message. The feather touch Ezell uses hits harder than a hammer would have.

Every junkie, every alcoholic has a story: "I used; I got high; I got in trouble." NOBODY sets out  in the hopes of winding up face down in the gutter some day. That's the tragedy of the filthy end our protagonist came to: she didn't PLAN for any of this to happen.  In fact, we discover that she is Doctor Susan Aloh, former Xenobiologist at the University of Texas, and that she was researching this particular drug, because of her interest in this particular race of aliens, and the pusher she bought her first hit from made her use it in his presence.

And she was immediately hooked, and within a couple of years, her professional life was just a memory. Every action she took, after that first taste of the drug, was infected by her sickness. She had lost the power of choice.

And that's not what makes this story the creepiest story in the book.

Here's the creepy part: the alien returns her to complete health, and then claims her as property.

Initially, when the deal is struck, she is impaired, chemically and physically. However,  when she wakes up on the alien ship, of sound mind and body, she is offered the choice again: she can become a pet, or she can die.

It's a trap without an exit.

And THAT'S what makes it the creepiest story in the book.

Peace be on your household.

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