The Anomalous Archive, Part XIII: 'Sincerely Simon' by G.L. Francis

[This review was originally published on the Anomaly forum on October 15, 2012.]

 "Sincerely, Simon: When Violets go Bad," 1st in Issue 5 of The Cross and the Cosmos

Reading "Sincerely, Simon" for me was slightly analogous to listening to most music, especially popular contemporary Christian music. I can see the complexity, the beauty, and the deep significance in music, but I can't quite appreciate it for all that it is worth. I'm not familiar enough with the genres of popular music to evaluate individual pieces very well. I don't follow whatever may be new in the Christian or secular music industries, and I don't even entirely understand the music industry. When I observe friends and family who passionately love music, I think that I do not posses the ability to see all the significance and majesty that music can have. However, I do not dislike music in general, and I see that it is a great and beautiful form of art. So it is with G.L. Francis's contribution to the latest issue of the Cross and the Cosmos. In many ways, "Sincerely, Simon" is deeply fascinating, but I failed to fathom it's full depth of meaning.

The element that stood out the most to me is the writing. Many writers have styles that I like, but the highly psychological first-person prose in this story is truly a cut above the rest! In "Sincerely, Simon," style and character development are integrated. This strikes me as a particularly dangerous approach for an author to take, especially considering the nature of the first-person protagonist's mental state in this particular story. Fortunately, G.L. Francis was able to keep the entire narrative flowing smoothly and easily while never compromising the voice of the narrator. The writing is such a pleasure to read that I became engaged with the story even though I understood little of what was going on.

I understand that a sense of mystery is necessary in this story's genre (paranormal, I think, crossed with vampire/horror), but that doesn't keep me from wondering how the speculative elements fit with the literal/physical elements, or how the spiritual elements fit in with both. This kind of speculative fiction probably doesn't require the author to document how the speculative world operates. However, I would still like to understand what effect the speculative elements have on the plot. In "Sincerely, Simon," I could tell that the speculative occurrences had some direct bearing on the character mentioned in the brief prologue and epilogue, but even after reading the story a second time carefully, I can't understand overall premise. Perhaps the speculative plot would have been clearer had the author been able to use the premise of this story over the course of a novel, or at least a much longer story. When I read Schooley's The Dark Man, I was able to see the relationship between the speculative elements and the plot, even though the speculative elements were never explained in terms of the fictional world, and I enjoyed the aforementioned novel despite having different genre preferences. Much of my confusion with "Sincerely, Simon" may be that I prefer speculative worlds that make sense according to the rules of their own myth, as well as the fact that my mind isn't very good at working through mysteries.

Altogether, "Sincerely, Simon" is well-constructed and far easier to follow than its confusing plot would suggest. The characterization is marvellous, not only for the first-person narrator, but also for a small cast of supporting characters about whom much is revealed in the few sentences or so that they take the stage in the short story. As I noted above, the writing is beautiful. The contrast between the entertaining and easy-to-read prose and the confusing plot interlaced with unexplainable speculative elements that may or may not have supernatural ingredients (i.e., demon possession) seemed like a heavy paradox to me. Those who love paranormal speculative stories in the tradition of the Twilight Zone will doubtlessly get more out of this worthy short story than I did.

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