The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Monday, September 25, 2006

"Ancestor Money" by Maureen McHugh: An Appreciation by Kristin Livdahl

My favorite McHugh stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, just like Rachel in "Ancestor Money." No, that's not right. My favorite McHugh stories are about clashes between cultures just like "Ancestor Money." You'll have to read her collection, Mothers and Other Monsters, to find your favorite type of McHugh story. I warn you though, there are not enough of them, and so the ones we have are all the more precious.

If you haven't discovered McHugh's work, the World Fantasy-nominated "Ancestor Money" is a good place to start. SCI FICTION and Ellen Datlow did the community a great service by making this and another McHugh story, "Frankenstein's Daughter," available free on the web. "Ancestor Money" is about home, what we really want from life, or in this case, the afterlife, and the joy of simple pleasures. McHugh writes place as well as anyone I know out there. In this story, she takes us barefoot from a small house in early 20th century, rural Kentucky to modern, supernatural Hong Kong. Along the way, we get geese, gods and demons, flip-flops and some very different views of where we should be going. McHugh, who taught English for a year in rural China, expertly captures the raucous, striving entity that is Hong Kong and mixes in some history and myth for good measure.

"Ancestor Money" is deceptively simple, something reinforced as soon as you try to talk to someone who has also read it. Everyone I've talked to carried something different away from it. It's not surprising since my own interpretation of the bittersweet ending has evolved with each reading. Has Rachel turned her back on transcendence, found it already, made her own heaven or just settled for peace and quiet? You'll have to decide for yourself.

Link to story.


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