POND-WIFE | Peter Schranz
This is a fun, surprising piece that plays around with the conventions of fantasy while honoring the genre’s sense of adventure and curiosity. I admit I’m not an experienced reader of fantasy, unless you count reading some Tolkien back in the day. But even an amateur fantasy reader like myself comes to the text with certain expectations–this is what a fantasy story is, this is what it is not–and “Pond-Wife”‘s author both meets and plays with many of my expectations.
This story has four movements, four distinct acts that almost feel like separate narratives or vignettes, but which quietly build upon one another too.
- Act !: Our protagonist, the professional monster hunter Dorle, is commissioned by an impatient farmer to eliminate a particular monster that has been ravaging his locale (and eating his goats, it seems). Dorle proceeds to kill this rock monster, Cax, and that’s the end of the scene.
- Act II: All of a sudden, Dorle is in a modern city of skyscrapers, talking to her shrink about the things that haunt her, obsess her: the monsters she hunts. Her doctor is named Doctor Jason.
- Act III: Then Dorle is at a bar with a woman named Polly, who hired Dorle to take on her next challenge, the scariest monster of all: the Pond-Wife. Polly explains the Pond-Wife’s unequivocal scariness through a lengthy syllogism that’s a little tough to wrap my head around, but which I suspect is logically valid. So the Pond-Wife is definitively the Scariest of All Monsters.
- Act IV: Dorle encounters the Pond-Wife. The interaction does not go as planned, obviously, and in fact the overarching conflict of the latter half of the story is derailed completely in favor of a much more friendly conclusion (which I certainly did not see coming).
And that’s the story. It has moments of suspense, of tension, and it has moments of silliness and fun that almost read like parodies of the fantasy scene.
This is pretty tangential, but when I read section II, in which monster hunter Dorle is meeting with her therapist Doctor Jason, I’m reminded of those famous scenes from The Sopranos when Tony Soprano sits down with his therapist and talks about his feelings. The stark contrast between the person and the situation is very ironic, but also funny and modern.
The land in which Dorle lives appears to be a patchwork of different time periods, with rustic outlying communities that surround a modern city of high-rises (this quality reminds me of the similarly anachronous landscape of Shane Jones’s excellent Crystal Eaters). I really like that this piece doesn’t confine itself to genre-dictated medievalism. The world of this story is very detailed, very fleshed out. Every monster is a specific species with a specific name (there are even subspecies), and the world has different regions with varied cultures and landscapes.
The story’s swerves in plot and setting and characterization make it a very unusual sort of meta-fantasy piece, but what really stands out for me is the expansiveness of Dorle’s world. Sometimes short stories and flash pieces in a particular camp of speculative fiction struggle to pull the reader into their fantastic environment. This piece, though, offers a very concrete, authentic world not unlike our own–only with monsters.