Review #20: The City of Lobster, or, The Dancers on Anchorage St. by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Apr 30, 2010 in Reviews |

Author Website: http://www.alexdallymacfarlane.com
Published by: Fantasy Magazine, March 2010

lobsterPhoto by Paula Ouder, courtesy LSGCP Creative Commons

The Story:

A British newspaper columnist named Sasha travels across the country, hoping to snag an interesting story on a curious city whose entire industry revolves around lobster. Tourists flock in droves during the summer, delighting in succulent whole lobster, curried lobster, lobster pasta, grilled, on a bun, or with veggies. The recipes seem endless, but the summer is not. No one knows what goes on in the city in the winter months, when the tourists leave and the city’s gates shut behind them.

The Craft: World Building

SPOILERS

The classic fish out of water (lobster out of water?) point of view is a great way to introduce the details of a world without being artificial. We get to see The City of Lobster through Sasha’s eyes and experience its wonders from a fresh perspective. Sasha arrives and takes the city in, smells the salt air, walks along the seafront, sees a woman dressed as a lobster welcoming people back to the city. It’s unremarkable to Sasha in the beginning, not quite living up to her expectations of this wonderfully weird place. But as she settles in, she learns more about the city’s history and legends, like how during a festival that happens once every five years, the entire city dresses up like lobsters. There’s also a tale of a lobster-maid — half lobster, half woman — who leaves her home in the sea on an occasion so rare, it won’t happen twice in any person’s lifetime. Legends and history are not only interesting tidbits for the reader, but also help bring the city to life, cementing it in a timeline that exists beyond the story itself.

After a conversation with the woman dressed as a lobster, Sasha begins to wonder about how the city’s inhabitants live after the tourists have gone. She herself grows tired of eating lobster and seeks out other meats: chicken, crab, mussel. Unfortunately, one of those delectable morsels sends her stomach churning, making her so ill she requires hospitalization. The city’s gates close while she’s still hooked up to IVs. When she’s well enough to venture out, she sees that all traces of lobster have been scrubbed from the town. Sasha stumbles upon a festival on Anchorage Street with people dressed in all manners of costume, not a single one of them a lobster.

Sasha faces a delima on how to present her article. Clearly these people value their privacy, keeping their lives outside of tourist season a secret. For those summer months, everything goes into maintaining that facade so that they have the resources to be themselves for the rest of the year. But if she doesn’t report all that she’s learned, her article will be nothing more than a half-truth. The city wears two skins, Sasha decides, leaving vague hints in her article for those who dare to see them, and perhaps seek the truth for themselves. And as readers, we’ve seen a glimspe of these two skins and the mysteries that live between them — opposite sides of a coin, but both rich and full of delicious details.

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