Short Stories 366:181 — “Great Reckonings, Little Rooms,” by Catherine Lundoff

coverPart of my university education included English Literature and it’s safe to say that most of those classes systematically managed to eradicate most of my love of reading of so-called lit-ruh-chur. So you’d think I’d bump into a story centred around Shakespeare and Marlowe would have me sighing and exiting, stage left. But, no, because “Great Reckonings, Little Rooms,” is an alternate-history, queered-to-the-nth take on said literary figures, and is, instead, about the Bard’s sister, and unfolds an alternate take on who wrote what, when, and—most importantly—paves a perfectly reasonable answer to why the “truth” of her writing wouldn’t/didn’t come to light.

It’s just the sort of historical fiction I love the most: putting us queer (or other marginalized) people right there in the thick of things, finding our ways around the rules and power structures in play, and—ultimately—coming out on top in a not insignificant way, even when it’s not a complete victory. Lundoff’s characters are different takes on the people I was forced to study, and craftily builds a “what-if?” around all of them that holds up easily through the lens of “of course we wouldn’t know that, people wouldn’t want to know that. Misogyny and homophobia buried so many of our tales, so a speculative exhumation sounds just about perfect to me.

I won’t spoil the narrative in this one beyond the basic set-up: Shakespeare’s sister is doing her absolute level best to continue to hold onto her ability to write, and is swept up alongside other key figures when she realizes their truths as queer people and women are about to be exposed: all of which would be punishable in truly horrifying ways. It fast becomes a race for her to try and save her friends and her brother, and I was completely swept away. As the opening tale for Out of this World: Queer Speculative Fiction, this story launched me into the collection whole-heartedly.

(Oh, and I was lucky enough to touch base with the author and asked her to share the sparks for these tales. Here’s what she’s got to say about “Great Reckonings, Little Rooms.”)

From the Author:

This one is a favorite of mine! I had a lot of fun writing it. It was inspired by reading a mix of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” (“What if Shakespeare had a sister?”) and A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess right around the time that editor Connie Wilkins/Sacchi Green asked me to write an alternate history tale for her anthology Time Well Bent. Add a dose of the Bard himself and voila! It is full of references to the plays, Marlowe’s own work, the Dark Lady sonnets and the history around Marlowe’s murder in Deptford.

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