cover image The Silences of Ararat

The Silences of Ararat

L. Timmel Duchamp. Aqueduct, $12 trade paper (118p) ISBN 978-1-61976-208-4

Aqueduct Press’s 79th installment to its Conversation Piece series, which aims to facilitate conversations at the intersection of speculative fiction and feminism , does so with limited success. Duchamp (Chercher la Femme) takes the premise of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale as a jumping-off point, as, in the modern kingdom of Ararat, the tyrannical King Leo accuses his pregnant wife of adultery. Queen Hermione, a living idol to her people, is thrown into prison, where she apparently dies in chains. But the narrator, Paulina, a Court widow, spirits her away and nurses her back to health. Hermione takes on a new life as seamstress Penelope Ithaca and enters into an affair with Paulina, who has sworn revenge on Leo. The premise is strong, but Duchamp doesn’t go far enough in updating the story for the modern era. She gestures at political commentary—King Leo is described as “an anti-science white supremacist”—but doesn’t fully develop either characters or theme. The prose, meanwhile, has a folkloric quality that tells instead of showing, which makes the action of the story feel oddly distant. Those who appreciate modern feminist retellings of classic literature will be hooked by the concept but long for a more robust execution. [em](Mar.) [/em]