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The Newsletter of
The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic

Volume 1, Number 1 (Fall 1995)
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Dreams from the Stranger's Cafe

Dreams from the Stranger's Cafe # 4, edited by John Gaunt, 15 Clifton Grove, Clifton, Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England S65-2AZ.

Review by Kathleen Moffitt
Copyright © 1995, Kathleen Moffitt

The Stranger's Cafe does serve up some perfect specialties. Stuart J. Hughes has whipped up a smooth and offbeat tale in "The Sin-Eater." The sin-eater, an aging character and perhaps a twisted version of Falstaff, gets to sin--drink, smoke, overeat--without societal restrictions. He carries a "presence around him like a shroud," and the townsfolk both fear and revere him for his job. His job is to absorb the sins of others so that they can go to heaven--and it's a career with perquisites.

"Being the town's sin-eater does have some privileges," the sin-eater said. "I can get everythin' I want without charge. Anything I like, see, except women, of course." Yet the position also presents occupational hazards. For one, the sin-eater looks like Hell, the physical manifestation of evil. Worse, with a soul that has sponged up a lot of sins through the years, where will this guy go in the end? The sin-eater discusses this dilemma and his life with Bregans, a socially suppressed youngster, who must secure some sin-eating services for his dying father. Their journey to the deathbed is intermittently stalled because the sin-eater is, of course, diverted by temptations, but in the end, we do get to witness the sin-eater's odd bedside manner.

D. Ceder's "Learning," another striking story, is based on a psychological quest and recalls the Romantic Poets' theme of seeing and losing an ideal vision. The protaganist experiences the ideal woman in a dream, then vestiges of her in a hallucination, and even insinuations of her in a page from a fax machine. The winding sentences and reverberating images of tears and mirrors render the writing ethereal. The story dramatically relates a man's sense of desperation about his passionless marriage where his wife is the "slumbering shape [that] stirs and turns away from him."

Here's a neat treat: "All in the Mind," by David R. Allen. This suspenseful and clever tale involves a plot to ambush and murder Annabel, who is "a waste of space" in a setting that only becomes clear to us in the conclusion. What makes this story truly bizarre is that its language and simplicity recall a nursery rhyme. With its message of destruction and its "Not I. Nor I" litanies, the tale becomes a perverse rendition of the "Little red Hen." This one unravels quickly to an appealing finale that will take a few readers--if not Annabel--by ambush.

A few stories got too spicy or gritty for my particular taste. Nevertheless, amid sophisticated and unobtrusive graphics, I found some fabulous, well-crafted creations. My compliments to the Editor, John Gaunt.

The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.

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Copyright 1995 Kathleen Moffitte
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