Sunday, July 12, 2015

Grand Jeté (The Great Leap), by Rachel Swirsky

Subterranean Press Magazine, Summer 2014

Grand Jeté (The Great Leap) by Rachel Swirsky

This is, like The Devil in America, in some ways a very painful read, but well worth reading anyway. Both stories feature just-adolescent girls. And that's the last point of resemblance between the stories.

It's the not too distant future. Jakub's grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Born in the US but raised by the grandparents in Poland after his mother died and his father couldn't cope with four sons, he subsequently emigrated back to America. He had a thriving career as a robotics expert, and married a ballerina, Meryem. It's now a dozen years later, Meryem died a few years ago, and their eleven-year-old daughter, Mara, has cancer and is dying.

So far, the science-fictional elements seem minor. Mara has apparently undergone forms of treatment that don't exist yet, without success. She attends school and has friends, or did until she grew sick enough that it's too hard, in "attic space," a form of cyberspace. There's the household AI that we mainly encounter playing back videos of Meryem dancing for Mara.

But Jakub is a robotics expert, and the last person he loves in this world is dying. And an old colleague contacted him some while back to consult on a problem in neural nets.

Jakub has been at work in his workshop. He believes and hopes he's found a way not to lose Mara, not to be utterly alone.

We see the first part of the story through Mara's eyes, the middle through Jakub's eyes, and the last, well, that would be telling. It's gently yet uncompromisingly told, with the strengths and weaknesses of the central characters fully examined. Yet it's kind, also. The sadness, the grief, the love here are all very real.

Highly recommended.