This week on Weirdfictionreview.com, we’re featuring a newly published novella, Town of Shadows, and an interview with the author, Lindsay Stern. A native of New York City, Stern is in the process of wrapping up her B.A. in English and Philosophy at Amherst College. Town of Shadows is her first published book.
Town of Shadows is a treat for the imagination that rewards careful reading. The structure of the story is weblike; there is indeed a story here – the inhabitants of a surreal, dystopian town attempt to make sense of their lives as various events interrupt them, including but not limited to the actions of a dictatorial mayor – but the core of the story lies in the imagery and language used to show readers the inner and outer lives of the characters. Children solve word equations on a blackboard in school, working out the correct answer to today / day; if their answers are illegal, they are hauled off by bureaucrats for “deletion.” A lepidopterist writes living contradiction poems on the wings of butterflies. A rug doctor named Pierre loses track of his shadow. Citizens are forced to wear wooden cages on their heads to prevent the transmigration of their ideas. All of this and more is written in crisp, almost detached language that in fact heightens the eerieness of what transpires.
Language itself is a central preoccupation of Town of Shadows. The mayor of the town bans vowels and establishes mathematics as the official language of the people. The children of the town find secret corners and reclaim language and definitions for their own. And all throughout, characters use language and narrative to come to terms with the deeply odd and uncanny world they inhabit. The stories of most everyone in Town of Shadows are indeed tied to this desire for understanding, and the use of language as a vehicle for understanding – and, sometimes, its weaknesses in that regard.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Town of Shadows is how all these vignettes remain in conversation with one another to the very end of the story, connecting to one another through their surreal imagery and themes. These connections in turn form a shared lexicon that not only defines the world of the story, but becomes the story. So, readers should not be surprised if they feel compelled to engage in willful exercises of linguistic mapmaking, charting every equation, every pattern of image, every experiment devised by Pierre to understand the world, and every time Town of Shadows rewards or denies the fruits of his experiments. This leads to a satisfying experience where readers aid in recreating this world, willingly placing the pieces together to see the larger whole.
For information on ordering Town of Shadows, please visit the website for the publisher, Scrambler Books. The novella will also be available on Amazon within a couple of weeks and in audiobook format as soon as November of this year. In the meantime, please feel free to read the selection from Town of Shadows available on this site, as well as our interview with the author.