Blogging Songs of Love and Death: Carrie Vaughn "Rooftops"


One of the joys of reading short story compilations is discovering new authors. Granted, I wouldn't have picked up this one if it didn't have a new Neil Gaiman story in it, but there you have it. He was the only author I'd read before, so the rest was pretty much an adventure.

I've been jumping around the stories, which vary in style and setting from edieval Faerie, to modern Amsterdam, to Seattle, to the far recesses of a space-faring future, and I've yet to complete the collection. Other authors you might recognize are Diana Gabaldon (her story will be a subject for a future post), and Peter Beagle (The Last Unicorn). These are all stories about lovers who fight the forces of magic, physics, unintentional time travel, ghosts and fate itself.

But I wanted to draw attention here to one story in particular: Carrie Vaughn's "Rooftops".

(go read it, then come back!)

"Rooftops" very nearly made me die of romanticism. I can't even explain why. Nothing happens in it that hasn't been done elsewhere story-wise, but it's just...brilliant. Charlotte is a playwright on the cusp of success; her pet project is being directed by a top theatre personality, and features a famous actress. There is no hint yet about the funny nature of this world; we are drawn in by Charlotte's creative worries, her professional fears, all the artistic worry created when you let your baby go out into the wild, where other people both nurture and abuse it.

We slowly learn about her relationship with the district attorney, so wrapped up in work that he is rarely available.

Then, when she goes out for a quiet dinner so that she doesn't have to be home alone, she is mugged and very nearly kidnapped by a band of ruffians, saved only by a mysterious masked man. She starts to obsess over him, and even imagines a pattern where everytime her DA cancels on her, the masked man captures new pests in the city. It's an odd delusion that makes her extremely forgiving of her DA's absences and disappointments.

But what makes this story work is how Vaughn builds up the world Charlotte lives in. At some point, soon after the mugging, we learn that this is a world where superheroes exist; entire websites are devoted to "spottings" and tracking their movements. But her masked man doesn't really share any of the typical superhero trappings. So who is he?

It's a very simple story, and I was surprised (and pleased!) to find that on Goodreads, many other readers considered it their favorite story from the anthology.

I just loved the concept and the execution; it was nice to see this type of story so firmly grounded in basic human fears and emotions. I don't doubt that it won't be for everyone, but it's been a long time since I've read anything that made my heart swell such as this.

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