Paula Guran Reviews Where You Linger by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Where You Linger, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Ver­nacular 978-1-952-28322-2, $18.99, 284pp, tp) July 11, 2022. Cover by Ellie Alonzo.

Compiling any author’s stories into a col­lection usually adds a new dimension to readers’ understanding and appreciation of their work, but Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s debut col­lection Where You Linger reveals connections, emphasis, and meaning one could not otherwise have gained. The themes of these dozen stories are memory, relationship, and survival. One realizes when reading them together that there are other threads; the sum of the whole becomes more than its excellent individual parts. Stufflebeam writes in a distinct voice with cogent clarity and occasional profundity.

“Skeletons” is a story about unrequited (well, semi-requited) love that also features walking, talking miniature skeletons of extinct animals, kept as pets, who plead for freedom. Claire, in “They Come Through the Walls”, is trying to recover from the end of a relationship as she struggles to take care of an elderly father who often doesn’t recognize her. He seems comfortable, however, with a group of rude phantoms who appear nightly for dinner and eat food Claire can ill-afford. In “The Lifespan of Horror”, sisters Jackie and Beth each inherit half of the family home. Jackie wants to keep it; Beth wants to sell. The house doesn’t want to be given away. Feeding on their grief, it learns to create apparitions and manipulate the sisters – and worse. “Husband Wife Lover” is told from the three points of view, husband Donovan, wife Heather, and college student Cathryn with whom both fall in love. They live in a world changed by frequent killing, acidic rains. Nora and Andrew are young people who escaped from a strange small town named Agape in “Where You Came From”. One survives such places, we are reminded, any way one can. A father and daughter go camping in “The Mammoth”, hoping to observe some of those living skeletons – full-sized ones – in the wild. The father is one of the few men to survive a virus that “attacked any human with a Y chromo­some.” The titular “Nostalgia” is literally a drug in a story where a character understands what lengths some go to “to keep the people who were once close nearby. To relive that which you remember in a hazy euphoria.” In “The Split”, Emma moves away from her family in Texas for a life with Lin in Oregon. When they arrive, Emma realizes she is missing half her body. The other half appears, piece by piece, at her parents’ home. This is an age-old story of the need to be oneself and live life with one’s partner and the need for the love and support of the family one must leave behind. The narrator of “Where You Linger” uses a costly procedure to relive her memories, hoping to discover why she ruined her marriage.

Unlike the proceeding stories, which are only lightly interlinked, the final three form a trilogy. Robin Underwood, in “The Damaged”, works in a factory assembling PlayMatez. These cyborgs walk, talk, and smell human, except for the one-in-a hundred that is damaged. They, too, are sold, but they usually wind up abandoned. Robin is drawn to the impaired cyborgs and begins “collecting” them. Camille Maxwell, in “Hearty Appetites”, is an ace investigator who is hired by her billionaire boyfriend to investigate an alleged conspiracy headed by a CEO’s bogeywoman – “Robin Hood” – who helps take down “powerful men whose lax safety standards cost people their lives.” The Robins are connected. Concluding novelette “The Queen of Kingdom Arts” is the only original in the collection. It again centers on Camille who is now intimately connected with a cyborg. She’s hired to enter a video game – an adventure through art history – in development that’s been hacked from the inside.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam reminds us that life is worth living despite tribulation, love is worth preserving, evil worth defeating, and memory is useful but to “be bound to nostalgia, that’s an illness deserving of a name, in need of a cure.” Although her characters journey through darkness and may be irrevocably flawed, they ultimately survive, and that is a triumph. So is Where You Linger.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the Sepetmber 2022 issue of Locus.

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