Single mother Queenie Hayes struggles to support her two young children and tells them stories of a world filled with sunlight instead of concrete, a world called the Veldt where magical creatures are abound and her family roams, free from the trials of the real world. As a social worker threatens to break apart her family, the Veldt offers her family a chance to escape if she can find the courage, and imagination, to reach for it.
The Scent Of Sunlight is one of the best short stories that I have ever read. Forget the sexy ‘strong independent sassy ass kickers’ , Queenie is a far more real and admirable woman than the legions of ‘grrl power’ protagonists who populate urban fantasy.
Queenie is an African American woman who lives in poverty and struggles working two jobs to support her children. As a white British woman, I don’t know what it’s like to be a poor black woman in America, but the battle with poverty Bellet paints rings true and every struggle is portrayed in such vivid and painful light.
We see Queenie walk through her apartment block at night after a late shift at work, each time in terror of being attacked- a sad everyday reality of being a woman living in a dangerous area.We see her struggling to work two jobs which leave her constantly feeling run down and empty. We see her fear her kids will get sick because she knows she lives in a country where if you’re uninsured kids can die of a tooth ache, and that the medical bills will cripple her.
But even with all the exhaustion, even with all the pain and fear of living in such an unstable environment, it’s not all darkness. At the core of this struggle, Queenie has a genuinely warm and touching bond with her two kids, Angel and Tabby. We see Queenie tell them tales of a wonderful world of the Veldt, a world Queenie made up as a kid to give her some place to escape. And then one day, we see this world come to life as they’re transported to Veldt in a Narnia-like manner.
The ending itself is very, very bittersweet. On the one hand, its the heartwarming ending Queenie deserves. But on the other hand we know in real life there are millions of women in Queenie’s situation and there is no escape . Things would only get worse, as in most cases Tabby would grow up to find herself in Queenie’s situation while Angel could find himself another statistic; in jail or a victim of police brutality because he’s a poor black man and therefore guilty until proven innocent.
I like the ending, but I think it would have worked better either being more ambiguous (like the ending of Pan’s Laborinth), or being a tragedy which forces the reader to be left with a cold feeling in their stomach as they’re forced to really empathise with the situations that poor black American women like Queenie find themselves in everyday. But as it stands, it is still an amazing and powerful story.
RATING: 5 tumbles down the Rabbit hole / 5