Birthday Reviews: Elizabeth Engstrom’s “Seasoned Enthusiast”

Birthday Reviews: Elizabeth Engstrom’s “Seasoned Enthusiast”

Cover by Allen Koszowski
Cover by Allen Koszowski

Elizabeth Engstrom was born on May 11, 1951. She occasionally writes using the name Liz Cratty as well.

Engstrom’s collection Nightmare Flower was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and she co-edited the anthology Imagination Fully Dilated with Alan M. Clark, which earned them an International Horror Guild Award nomination.

“Seasoned Enthusiast” first appeared 1990 in Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine: Horror, the seventh issue, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Engstrom later reprinted the story in her 1992 collection Nightmare Flower.

The short work “Seasoned Enthusiast” tells two parallel tales, one about a dancer performing in front of an audience, the other the story of a divorced woman who is considering her own self-worth in light of her husband’s new life.

The more interesting story looks at Lillian, whose life has fallen apart after her divorce and she’s living in squalor while her husband and his new wife start their life together in an upscale house, a symbol of the success which eluded the couple while they were married. Unable to separate her life from his, and seeing herself as a failure because she lost him, Lillian drives over to her ex-husband’s house without a firm plan in mind, feeding her obsession with him without any plan of action.

In the other story, a crowd gathers around to watch a woman dance in an apparently primitive setting. As the dance sequences are interwoven with Lillian’s story, it becomes clear that things aren’t quite as they seem. There is an element of danger in the woman’s dance and she has suffered for her craft as she has perfected it.

The stories never directly intersect, but as the dancer comes to the height of her craft and its most dangerous outcome, Lillian appears to come to some sort of peace with herself and her own situation. The dancer’s need for danger is overcome at the same time as Lillian’s self-loathing. Except, Lillian is only sublimating her obsession with her husband, taking the scarcest of evidence as an indication that he still cares for her, and therefore validating her self-worth. The dancer, on the other hand, scares her audience away even as she finishes her dance, voiding their external validation.

The two halves of the story never quite come together, offering a tantalizing glimpse, but never completely providing a unifying theme.

Reviewed in its original publication in Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine: Horror, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Pulphouse Publishing 1990.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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