Vernon is a small-time regional music producer who landed in Black William, Pennsylvania with his (now) ex-wife, Andrea, when their car broke down. Perhaps because he’s recounting events that happened ten years before the main action of the story, the opening passage of “Stars Seen Through Stone,” by Lucius Shephard, sounds stiff in its formality and distance.
But when Vernon takes in a hot prospect, a vile specimen called Joe Stanky, the prose loosens up. Despite his talent, Stanky is bad news for any human being who has the misfortune to encounter him, especially women. Vernon, by contrast, has an unexpectedly good encounter with Andrea and they begin a rapprochement. As Vernon develops Stanky, his tactics were mildly interesting, but I wanted to know where the fantastic element went.
Maybe a fifth of the way into the story, while Vernon is chewing out Stanky, they see a pair of mysterious lights. Still barely a hint. Not until the halfway point do the stars put on a lightshow that lots of people notice. After that, curious things happen in the town, some intriguing, some dark. Both trouble and fame come knocking on Vernon’s door, looking for Stanky. The slow sense builds that Something Big is going to happen. It all cames to a satisfying climax when the lights return in force, and their purpose is revealed.
To a degree, the impact of the climax is magnified by the slowness of the buildup. But to be honest, I was fully expecting Stanky to be “discovered” and didn’t find him very interesting. Instead, I was so annoyed by him, I forgot all about the peculiar wind in the opening paragraph that made the critical promise of Strangeness. When the Strangeness finally arrived, it was very cool, so I was glad I stuck with the story. I also liked how the loose ends were tied up between Vernon and Stanky, and Vernon and Andrea.
A story that rewards patience.
Tomorrow: The View From the Center of the Universe
Monday: Bright of the Sky