Author’s Note: The cornerstone of my new book is the novella, Queen, originally featured as one-fourth of an anthology my very talented pals Tim Marquitz, Ed Erdelac and Malon Edwards put together based on the different stages of human life (Queen, of course, deals with middle age, while the others’ pieces deal with childhood, adolescence an old age). When the now out-of-print book, Four in the Morning, was released in 2012, the three other guys and I each picked one of the other stories and blogged about them. We also chose a favorite excerpt from each others’ stories to go with the essays. Below, you’ll find Ed Erdelac’s thoughts on Queen. If you’re interested in purchasing Queen & Other Stories, my first novel-length collection, you can do so here.
Lincoln Crisler is the last guy you’d expect to write a middle aged woman fretting over her age lines.
Scratch that. Lincoln Crisler is the last guy you’d expect to write a middle aged woman fretting over her age lines so well.
The guy is active duty military, tattooed, and can just about quiet a room (or I imagine a lineup of guys in OD green – do they still wear that?) with his voice. His clipped, direct speech reminds me of a drilling precision cadence. He’s not a hardass or anything. The guy is quite affable. But he really is the live action GI Joe his website trumpets him as.
But man, he writes the woefully vulnerable, self-deprecating middle aged female psyche really well.
And you know how I can tell? Because I hated Rita (the main character of Lincoln’s Queen in Four in the Morning, the collection my novella Gully Gods appears in, along with works by Tim Marquitz and Malon Edwards) when I met her. But I couldn’t stop reading about her. That’s the mark of a good author and a good story, and Lincoln Crisler and Queen are both.
In Queen, Rita is obsessed with herself and her husband’s opinion of her. She’s a beautiful, mature woman, but she requires constant positive appraisal, and rebuffs it or is nearly oblivious to it when it actually comes her way. The woman can’t seem to just live her own life or fathom that her husband has a life outside of her. This drives every event of the narrative, from her decision to rejuvenate herself via an experimental age reversal treatment conducted by a shady, too-friendly pharmaceutical company, to her husband James’ inevitable conduct and the supremely bizarre conclusion.
The woman is a heavenly body (slowly made all the more heavenly by the helpful Dr. Cavelian) and the people around her are just satellites. It’s fitting really. In a way, she’s already a queen in her own mind when the story starts, albeit not the sort of queen you’d want running your kingdom.
This is a Lincoln Crisler yarn, so things are going to take a weird turn, and they do. But for the eventual strangeness and horror to be believable, you’ve got be grounded in the reality first, and Lincoln does this really well. Although I couldn’t stand Rita, I could follow and empathize with her thought processes, could almost predict her reactions to things around her. I wanted to shake her at times, but I understood her.
The treatment has side effects unforeseen by Rita, but not entirely unintended. And I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a scene in the kitchen, and you’ll know when you come to it, that is positively stomach turning. And yet, none of it is so strange that it comes out of left field or feels non-diagetic. In fact, although Rita’s fate is somewhat tragic, it’s also sort of…appropriate. Everything comes together, culminating in a fitting end. In a way, Rita becomes the queen she always wanted to be, even if she didn’t know it herself.
In the end, what Lincoln’s created in Queen is a dark meditation on the nature of beauty and self-worth. You’re only as important as the people closest to you think you are. But it’s a reciprocal thing. To be needed, you have to need in return.
And as for beauty, it really only starts to fade when you dwell on it.
Here’s an excerpt -
Something moved, deep in her belly, accompanied by a brief flash of heat behind her eyes. She eased her head back to her pillow. If the doctor wanted her to avoid unnecessary stress, that meant playing dead until James took his ass to work. She lay still and focused on her breathing while her husband heaved himself out of bed and started his day. The hot flashes and queasiness passed, and after a moment, she didn’t have to fake sleep.
A sharp pain ripped through Rita from crotch to skull, waking her abruptly. She looked over at the clock as she struggled to raise herself up on one elbow. She’d slept until lunchtime. Fire and ice washed over her brain. Her legs felt like rubber as she attempted to stand. She fell to her knees beside the bed and pawed at the nightstand, scattering the clock and a cup of water before laying hands on what she was searching for; her cell phone. It was dead. There was no land line in the house, and she was alone.
The neighbors. The two nearest homes belonged to the Moores and the Clares. The Clares were childless and both worked, but blonde, bright-eyed Susan had retired early a few months back when her daughter started college. If she wasn’t home, her daughter, Jordan, might be. Otherwise, she’d have to cross the street and hope she didn’t get run over. Rita braced herself against the nightstand and rose to her feet. Her guts churned and static filled her head. She could hear voices through the haze, but couldn’t make out any of the words. The lurching in her stomach became rhythmic, and her hips ground painfully. Watery blood flooded from her vagina as she fell to the floor.
Oh God. What did those assholes do to me? She was in worse pain than she’d ever been in before. She crawled to the bathroom on her hands and knees, trailing fluid and mucus. She needed to clean herself up, get some pants on, and get some help. As she left the carpet for the hard, cool tile of the bathroom floor, she felt the first familiar sensation she’d felt all morning.
Birth contractions. Far too soon, but undeniable.