Liz Abeling's Reading Recommendation:
Dance on Saturday by Elwin Cotman
I just finished reading Elwin Cotman’s Dance on Saturday—at least, insofar as one can finish it. I’m not really done with it, and it’s not really done with me; it lives here now. It’s burrowed. Elwin’s stories have a way of sticking to your bones, finding an anchor point in your head, hatching into new thoughts. Which is about as scary as it sounds, though it’s much more enjoyable, I promise. There’s a wonderful space that teeters between fantasy and horror, and a lot of this book lives there. It’s as unsettling as it is beautiful.
And damn, it is beautiful. Elwin’s language is a living thing. His lyricism makes me shiver. Well, I’m a writer, so mostly it just makes me jealous. Seriously, the man has sentences I’d be happy to drown in.
The title novella floats you into its world. The unreality sneaks up and washes over quietly, almost insidiously—like it was always there, like it couldn’t have ever been different. In it, immortal beings haunt the streets of Pittsburgh, mingling with the real world, exploring grief and divinity. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for twelve years, and the streets have never felt so haunted.
The other stories range from fantastic realms of myth to the streets of New York City, from suburban gymnasiums to the Job Corps campus. In every setting, Elwin manages to make the ground bubble with mysticism, make the walls feel alive. A psychological nightmare realm rises from a middle school gymnasium; a king’s cruelty breeds horrific war; children traffic drugs in dens of thieves. Each story has something that bites, some terror that grips at a scathing emotional truth.
Do you remember, as a kid, the first fantasy world you sunk into? Maybe it was Narnia, maybe Middle Earth. Maybe Discworld. Maybe Tatooine. Do you remember the feeling? It’s lovely, drifting off like that, finding comfort in a universe that feels like it’s yours.
This isn’t like that.
This isn’t a world where good triumphs over evil, where lessons are learned and life is righted and balance is restored. This is a place where a mirror is held up to all the worst parts of you, where corruption and malevolence coil around your ankles like snakes. Elwin spins a magic that whispers to you, draws you in, enfolds you—and then reminds you it has teeth.
Liz Abeling is the creative nonfiction editor for After Happy Hour Review and a proud member of her Pittsburgh-based writing group The Rahnd Table. Her story October 26, 2015 was published in the current issue 287 of The Fiddlehead. You can find more of her words in the upcoming issue 17 of Bat City Review.