Random Reviews: “Sweeping the Hearthstones” by Betsy James
Betsy James published the Seeker Chronicles trilogy of YA novels between 1989 and 2006, but didn’t publish her first short story until 2008. Three years later, in October 2011, her second short story, “Sweeping the Heathstone,” appeared as the penultimate story in the final issue of the late, lamented Realms of Fantasy.
Corrie is a sixteen year old orphan who was raised by the Roadsouls and turned over to Neely Sheeker, who needed help running her roadhouse near Carmony. For Corrie, the change comes at the perfect time, as she is entering womanhood and she views it as a reflection of that change in status. Neely is a reasonable boss, concerned about Corrie’s well-being as well as her ability to do the job for which she was hired. Her biggest concern is that Corrie is discovering her own sexuality and appears to be a bit boy-crazy in a setting which gives her the opportunity to experiment in ways that Neely doesn’t consider appropriate.
Neely also gives Corrie her own room, one of the main features of which is an enormous hearthstone which appears to have been in place since time immemorial. The presence of the hearthstone fills Corries with a sense that there is something strange about it and she takes Neely’s warning that “you’d let the man under that stone feel you up” seriously, despite Neely pointing out that if there is a man under the hearthstone, he has lain there for over a millennium.
The story has Corrie experimenting with the local boys while pondering the existence of the man who may be buried under the hearthstone. Although Neely doesn’t fully condone Corrie’s experimentation, she is mostly supportive of Corrie, trying to help the girl find her way in the new world in which she has found herself.
Corrie’s relationship with the dead man under the hearthstone underlines her experimentation with the local boys, offering her a different, not necessarily more mature, relationship. The link with the man beneath the hearthstone offers Corrie an alternative perspective, and even, perhaps, some protection against the interest of travelers and local boys who express their interest in her.
“Sweeping the Hearthstone” is a coming of age story that has little in the way of conflict, instead offering the main character a warm, safe place to come of age, supported by a stranger who seems to have her best interests at heart and who, perhaps, has set her up with a supernatural guardian/lover to make sure she is able to make the transition to womanhood smoothly.
Steven H Silver is a nineteen-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, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.
Which final issue of ROF? 🙂 — I recall it dying at least three times … I know I read this story (I read every ROF story from at least 2002 on …) but I confess I don’t recall it.
The final, final issue, published by Damnation Books.