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Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Uh-Oh City" by Jonathan Carroll

First appeared in Kristine Kathryn Rusch's F&SF. It won the Imaginaire award, was nominated for the Hugo, Locus and World Fantasy awards. Brad Templeton reprinted it. Collected in The Woman Who Married a Cloud.

Scott, an English professor, and his wife Roberta hire Beenie Rushforth as their housemaid. She is a phenomenon. She cleans their house like none other. The couple walk around the house stunned.

Beenie dredges out objects they haven't seen in years. Some of them, though, carry memories they'd prefer to do without.

Commentary with Spoilers:
Beenie finds an unpublished novel manuscript from a student who killed herself when Scott pronounced it unfit for publishing. She also find love letters from a student that Scott burned in front of his wife, decades before.

It turns out that Beenie is one of thirty-six persons who represent god on Earth. Scott, it seems, has been chosen as her successor. With her, is the ghost of Scott's former student who killed herself. She wants to tongue-lash him every chance she gets.

But, surprise, Scott is not one of the thirty-six, but his former student. She uses her powers to show Scott how cold he's been--not just to her but his own family. She hadn't chosen a successor before she died. In fact, a number of thirty-six have been in the same situation, so god is diminishing.

We all feel that society is changing, that somehow these changes have become more dramatic. Why, for example, have school-shootings increased? or suicides? or certain illnesses? Carroll tries to place his finger on the pulse of society and describe our deepest fears. He also soothes us that our fates are not necessarily predetermined.

This one has a few reversals up its sleeve. Even though I'd read it before, it caught me off-guard. The title, however, leaves something to be desired. It comes from a cute if corny catchphrase Beenie says when she found something she thought worth discarding.

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