Before I get into this, I want to say a thing or two about the Oz fandom in general. The main fiction list, Em City, is named after the unit of Oswald State Penetentiary where most of the HBO television series takes place. The list members, from what I can tell, have long been advocates of fair and honest feedback, despite the fact that it has driven away a few non-fans of constructive criticism. By allowing us to do their stories, I believe they're putting their money where their mouth is. For this they have gained my utmost respect. They practice what they preach, spending what seems to be enormous amounts of time on their work and making it the best it can be before they release it to the world. "My Wife and My Dead Wife" is no exception. I have also found from surfing the site that Oz writers seem to be educated and fairly cosmopolitan. It would be interesting to examine the correlation between that and their ability to take constructive criticism. I have my own theories, but I've pissed enough people off without implying anything about uneducated people and fan fiction.
Anyway, "My Wife" focuses on Vern Schillinger, the Nazi who rules the Aryans in Oz with an iron fist. He rapes, he pillages and he is generally just a big bad mean motherfucker. While some writers would be quick to write him off as a one-dimensional villian like The Joker in Batman, Gemma's story reminds me a little of Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs. It's always harder, and more interesting, to show that the bad guys have feelings too. This is a chilling glimpse into the mind of a guy who burned a swastika in the ass of a timid lawyer in Oz on a drunk driving charge. In short, it's fucking amazing. This story focuses mainly on the vendetta between Schillinger and said lawyer. Vern has a wife, the lawyer has a dead wife, and now you know where the title comes from.
Gemma has an unconventional writing style. There is no clear beginning, middle and end. She seems determined to break out of the conventional restraints of creative writing. Her punctuation is placed in unexpected ways, her colloquialisms often spelled as they sound and there are plenty of ellipses and italics to go around. Many authors have tried this and screwed it up royally. With Gemma it works, I think. The only beef I have is that she relies a little too much on emphasis, putting words in all caps when they don't really need it, IMHO.
There is the odd spelling error (eg. "accommodation"), but they're all forgiveable and nothing another run through with a spell checker couldn't cure.
I like how she uses good description but still stays in the voice of the character. Vern is not exactly a Mensa candidate, but I've seen writers who would treat him like he is, using flowery metaphors and Mary Poppins personification despite the fact that they're writing in the voice of a skinhead. I particularly liked the way she described the lawyer, whose name is Beecher. It's simple Vernspeak but it drives the point home:
"...lies there like a broken doll, encased in plaster, making faces."I also loved her description of some of Oz's principal characters. Note that these descriptions are in the voice of Beecher, an educated man who has the gift of greater introspection and observation. Here are some samples:
"...not much bounce left in the old Beech ball."
His features swimming constantly in and out of focus, lapped and drowned in a shaky haze of light, myopic eyes narrowed introspectively beneath a wispy suggestion of brows.I enjoyed seeing Schillinger, despite all of his badass tendencies, get something like carpal tunnel syndrome. ("Carpet what?" he thinks.)
Shakespeare, king of the unseen observer, would've had a field day with someone like Ryan O: Arrases, tapestries, nooks and crevices, secret rooms. In Oz, however, he's regularly forced to make do with a far more prosaic class of hiding place--and cuts it close to the line, more often than not, by sneaking a quick cig between monologues. As Beecher can smell him doing, even now; dragging deep, then exhaling a last thick plume of smoke, before crushing the evidence underheel and stowing it away for later recycling.
She also clued in to the fact that one of the characters, Chris Keller, had issues with being wanted by other people way before the show itself addressed it. It makes me wonder if the writers read this. If they didn't, they should. It's crammed with ideas, characters and snippets of plot that make it a whirlwind story. Although because of this, I don't recommend this story for anyone not familiar with the show's characters. It could be confusing.CABS grade - A-