Birthday Reviews: Sarah Zettel’s “The Temptation of Harringay”

Birthday Reviews: Sarah Zettel’s “The Temptation of Harringay”

Cover by Vincent di Fate
Cover by Vincent di Fate

Sarah Zettel was born on December 14, 1966.

Sarah Zettel’s novel Reclamation was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award in 1997 and two years later her novel Playing God was nominated for the James Tiptree Jr Memorial Award. In 2010 her story “The Persistence of Souls” was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

Zettel sold “The Temptation of Harringay” to E.J. Gold for publication in the January 1995 issue of Galaxy, the penultimate issue of the most recent incarnation of the magazine. The story has never been reprinted.

Harringay owns a small art gallery in New York and is visited by a stranger from Ann Arbor who has brought a portrait by a friend of theirs who only recently finished art school. When looking at the painting, the stranger relates the background of the story to Harringay in an attempt to get him interested in displaying and selling it.

According to the stranger, who went to art school with the artist, the painting was created when the artist wasn’t able to get into the massive, juried Ann Arbor Art Show. Taking a photograph of a homeless man looking on at the art show, she turned the photo into a painting, although she wasn’t happy with it. As she wrestled with the painting, it came to life, arguing with her, giving her advice, and eventually offering her a career in art in exchange for her soul.

The story is clearly a deal with the Devil tale, but Zettel introduces the idea that the story is being told by a third party rather than the person whose soul is being bartered. Although it seems clear that the artist’s friend is telling the story to drive up Harringay’s interest in the piece and potentially other pieces by the artist, Zettel is actually doing something a little more subtle, in line with the title of the story. The twists to the standard deal with the devil are what make “The Temptation of Harringay” interesting because none of the characters, the artist, her friend, or Harringay, really show any personality. The major interaction, aside from the friend telling the story to Harringay, is the image in the artist’s painting coming to life to argue with her about what the painting should capture and the fact that she isn’t talented enough or have enough experience, yet, to paint what she is striving for.

Reviewed in its only appearance in the magazine Galaxy, edited by E.J. Gold, January 1995.

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 “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.

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Rich Horton

Nice to see Sarah Zettel’s name again — she did some impressive work and then I lost track. I see she’s done some YA, and some urban fantasy, and some work under pseudonyms. (One suspects this is the life of a midlist author these days.)

An interesting set of worthwhile but not super prominent birthdays today — Amal El-Mohtar, Kelley Armstrong, George Foy, not to mention Rosemary Sutcliff and Shirley Jackson from outside the field.

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