Short Stories 366:203 — “Conjuring Shadows,” by Craig Laurance Gidney

coverI don’t know if I’ve got it in me to do this story from Skin Deep Magic: Short Fiction justice, and that makes me sad because I love the way this story is constructed and put together. It starts with a poem, moves into a description of a statuette (carved by an artist named Courtney Vaughan), and then moves into a short story written by Courtney Vaughan. This layer-by-layer drop into the narrative sets the tone of a gay Black man in Harlem in the 1920’s, but through a gauzy layer of “this is an artist writing fiction” and so the reader has this ongoing sense of “but is he speaking truths here?”

The story-in-the-story describes a moment in a hidden gay club in Harlem, and a particular police raid, with a mystical conclusion that throbs with as much magic as desire, and is of course impossible—right?—then steps back out a bit to the voice of the person critiquing both the statue and the story. Here the removal returns: obviously this fantastical story has moments grounded in reality—this person, this place, this term—but, after all, there is no magic.

Then, with a final few sentences, Gidney leaves the piece with a pair of simple declarations about the figure central to the story, and this pulls the pieces of the narrative into this wonderful whole, where a reader like me (who loves contemporary fantasy) has enough to decide that yes, whole-heartedly, I wish to believe; that it simultaneously gives anyone who wants to read a different feeling into the story the exact same permission to believe it is just that, a story, is just another kind of magic, if you ask me.

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