A mysterious car breaks down, stirring up memories for one of the mechanics repairing it. A&A Salvage has an unusual, intriguing premise, but the science fiction novella struggles to kick into gear. Elisabeth and Melissa lead a quiet life fixing cars in a small town somewhere in California, until the appearance of an unidentifiable car tuned to a strange radio station threatens their idyllic existence.
Author Lucy Kemnitzer has published five ebooks and her work appears in several anthologies including The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008. Much of her work is both science fiction and queer fiction, and A&A Salvage is no exception. Genre, however, is not enough to make up for a slow moving story and dull characters.
Fred, one of the three central characters, is well written, his eccentricities and personality apparent in both his actions and descriptions of him. Elisabeth and Melissa, however, don’t have any romantic spark, let alone the familiar tenderness that comes with years spent together. Melissa’s jealousy is a character motivator, but Elisabeth seems distant and unaware of her partner’s feelings or the other woman’s advances. Elisabeth is drawn as a series of actions rather than a character with actual thoughts and feelings. Vague references to an activist past are not enough to make someone compelling. The descriptive problems affect the pacing too, with much of the novella reading like a recount rather than a story. The book opens with back story and it feels like Kemnitzer is holding the reader’s hand and walking them into the shallows rather than letting them swim for themselves. This is particularly frustrating given the brevity of the story; if there is ever a place for pushing readers into the deep end, the start of a novella is definitely it. Establishing the soon-to-be-disturbed equilibrium doesn’t take this long when a story is set in the real world. Kemnitzer clearly wants to build an increasing sense of unease and oddity but it makes the first half of the novel unnecessarily boring.
All of this is exasperating because once A&A Salvage finally fully introduces the science fiction conceits it’s an engaging story. The hesitance of the main characters accentuates the foreignness of the situation and narrative tension prevails. The equilibrium is finally damaged. All the new elements are clever and playful variations on existing ideas. It’s clear that Kemnitzer has a great imagination, it’s just a pity she doesn’t let it out until the final pages of A&A Salvage.
A&A Salvage is available from December 10, 2014. It is published by Less Than Three Press.