Sacraments for the Unfit
by Sarah TolmieGenres: Fantasy, Short Stories
The isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic brought out the ritualist in many of us. In this collection of contemporary weird short fiction, a variety of different persons and beings try to fill up their days in varying states of isolation and mystery, real or imaginary. An angel outlives the Apparat that used to employ him; a deity complains about no longer feeling seen; a museum curator living alone begins to inexplicably alter; a medievalist suffering from vision loss gets into a strange relationship with the ghost of the codicologist M. R. James; enigmatic objects begin to work themselves out of the ground by the grave of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, prompting scholarly speculation. Sacraments For the Unfit is a series of vignettes about the transformations that can happen while staying in place.
I can see why this book has been compared with Ursula Le Guin’s work. It had the same quality I have with some of her more impenetrable stories where I just don’t quite “get it”. Some of them seem to require some outside knowledge for more clarity — a little knowledge of M.R. James wouldn’t hurt, or Wittgenstein, which is quite the ask (I know a little about James, almost nothing about Wittgenstein).
In the end I don’t regret reading it, but also it wasn’t quite 100% squarely my thing, if that makes sense. I’m eager to read more of Tolmie’s books and stories, though: I really liked The Fourth Island and All the Horses of Iceland.