Story A Day Review #1: Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream, By Maria Dahvana Headley

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream, By Maria Dahvana Headley, Lightspeed

In the middle of the maze, there’s always a monster.

If there were no monster, people would happily set up house where it’s warm and windowless and comfortable. The monster is required. The monster is a real estate disclosure.

So. In the middle of the maze, there is a monster made of everything forgotten, everything flung aside, everything kept secret. That’s one thing to know. The other thing to know is that it is always harder to get out than it is to get in. That should be obvious. It’s true of love as well.

In the history of labyrinths and of monsters, no set of lovers has ever turned back because the path looked too dark, or because they knew that monsters are always worse than expected. Monsters are always angry. They are always scared. They are always kept on short rations. They always want honey.

Lovers, for their part, are always immortal. They forget about the monster.

The monster doesn’t forget about them. Monsters remember everything. So, in the middle of the maze, there is a monster living on memory. Know that, if you know nothing else. Know that going in.

I’d heard a lot of awards buzz for this story, as several of my friends absolutely-fuckin’ fell in love with it.  And as a writer, I can appreciate the craft Maria has poured into it; it’s got a narrative voice as hooky as a fishline, lot of absolutely wonderful cynical lines, a prose style that pops in beautiful visuals.
Alas, I just didn’t connect with it.
The tale is about two pairs of lovers who – well, let’s just say they discover the meaning of true love, and leave the story to surprise you.  The beauty of it is the way that it unfolds, in a bunch of seemingly unrelated bits that all knit together at the end into tragedy… Or, perhaps, a well-deserved fate, if you’re black-hearted and cynical like me.  And if you like Catherynne Valente’s stuff, one suspects you’ll like this, as it has that lush fairytale feel without actually being a fairytale.
For me, though, the characters felt more like sketches than people, and that’s a tricky thing for a writer to pull off.  So much of writing is what people bring to the table, and I can’t point to any particular aspect of the writing where I could go, “All right, that’s what would make me feel like these characters existed outside of the tale.”  But they felt almost so archetypical in The Young Lovers Falling For Each Other in that the emotions were depicted accurately, the details were lovely, but I never really felt the souls of who these people were.  I know what happened to them.  I don’t know what they would have done had they not fallen desperately in love.  And as such, Give Her Honey has the feeling of a beautiful clockwork ballerina show, where people are manipulated about the stage and lit in ways that magnify their beauty, but at no point do I feel like they’re moving on their own.
(The other couple feels more real to me, but then again they would, based on who they are.  And for that, I shall say no more.)
Anyway, it’s definitely worth reading.  If this was a movie, I’d call it the fascinating kind of misfire that will hit blindly for somebody, and even the ways in which it doesn’t work are intriguing. I was quite glad to have read it, if that makes any sense.
Three out of five stars, and such a shame that the first review I do so thoroughly fails to work well with any kind of star review.

1 Comment

  1. Jenny
    Mar 26, 2013

    The writing was beautiful, agreed, but Valente crafts a better story.

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