Author: Nick Hirsch
Length: 16 pdf pages, 3750 words.
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: YA fantasy
Alan turned to stone as a boy, and now he’s started cracking. His father left when he was a kid, his mother is impossible to talk to, and he’s always been bullied at school. One day he meets a boy on the bus named Luke, and things start to change. Will his feelings for Luke finally cure him, or will he simply fall to pieces?
Alabaster is an odd little story and probably won’t be to be to everyone’s taste, but for me this was a perfect gem and it moved me to tears (in a good way).
I’m not sure if fantasy is even the right categorisation for this. It’s probably more contemporary magic realism, where the everyday world is changed into something enchantingly surreal by the beautifully poetic use of metaphor. If you take out the whole “turning to stone” motif and the heightened imagery, it is at heart a very simple coming of age story. Alan’s father left when he was young, resulting in both Alan and his mother withdrawing into themselves. While his mother turns to alcohol, Alan is bullied at school by a former childhood friend. He doesn’t begin to heal until his attraction to his new friend Luke finally encourage him to look out at the world around him again.
What lifts this very short story above so many others with a similar plot is the audacious use of language. We are not told that Alan is “like” stone, but he literally has become it, and is no longer made of flesh and blood:
There was a time when he was flesh like everyone else. His skin had been soft, layered over rivers of rhythmic blood. He’d had a body full of water, sweat and tears. He’d liked to run and laugh and dance with clouds behind his ears. His father was there, then, and would push him on the swings at the park, higher and higher until he could grab the stars out of the sky.
This excerpt is a good example of the kind of prose poetry Hirsch employs. Every word seems perfectly chosen, and the sentences have a poetic rhythm to them. I wanted to read this story out loud just to feel the shape of the words in my mouth and to better enjoy them.
The story is confined to a short space of time one morning when Alan realises he is cracking, until he meets Luke on the bus and the process is complete. However, it also ranges back through time to cover an impressive range of experiences for such a very short story. We see Alan’s transformation into stone in the first place, through his father leaving, his mother’s reaction, and the bullying incident. These are the sorts of events that young adult GLBTQ stories often concentrate on, but here they’re given an infusion of magic, resulting in a truly memorable short story.
I can see that this will be a story I want to read again and again in the future. It’s a heartwarming and incredibly beautiful meditation on love. What more could you ask for from a romance?