Since the last time I touched on Chaz Brenchley‘s collection of short fiction Bitter Waters, it won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror, so congratulations are in order for the author.
As I said last time, I’m listening to this one as an audiobook, and I’m kind of rationing myself with it, as the stories have been – so far – dark enough and thoughtful enough that I think I’d be better off taking my time.
Also, one of the fun things about listening to an audiobook is realizing that you may have to go online to check for character names and story titles – because, as in the case of the title of this story, you can’t “hear” the pun. I had a sneaking suspicion, of course, once I got a little bit into the story, but at the start I was wondering how junk mail might play a part. It didn’t take long, but there’s another way that an audio experience is different from reading.
“Junk Male,” by Chaz Brenchley
This story doesn’t have a particularly speculative fiction aspect so much as it has a mystery, but I was so engrossed I didn’t care in the slightest. The narrative is – once again – simple on the surface but far more complex than it first appears. Here you have a man who is the skipper of a junk, crewed by young men, who comes across another boat sideways and stuck while trying to navigate the river. On board that other boat is a body of a woman, and a child. The skipper is averse to attention, but has the crime reported, everyone is interviewed, and he moves on – but something about this crime stays with him, and ultimately he spends enough time thinking about it to have a dark realization about what has happened.
The meat of this story is in this man’s character. He is not necessarily a good person (in fact, it’s made quite clear he isn’t), and yet there are a few moments here and there to give you pause. Who are the boys on his boat? What are the secrets? What has actually happened to this young boy, to the woman who was murdered?
The conclusion is very satisfying, and yet – like much of reality – leaves you feeling disquieted.