“The Finite Canvas” by Brit Mandelo
This is a well-crafted story that is grittily realistic and moving. The author manages to build a world with a few well-drawn strokes. Likewise, the reader is provided with enough well-chosen details to easily imagine each scene but not so much as to interfere with the spare style that works so well with the mood and setting.
It’s a familiar set-up — a story within a story, with the inner tale earned by the protagonist’s actions or promised service. Through this device, we get to know both the protagonist and the storyteller. The relationship between the two of them, strained at first, becomes closer as understanding grows. The reader feels mixed about this. We’re satisfied to see the triumph of empathy between two so different characters, but we sense already that the storyteller is doomed.
The ending comes as no surprise, but this does not detract. There are enough original ideas to make the story fresh, and the predictable ending is partially a factor of how all the pieces of the story fit together. There is a circularity to the beginning and end of the tale which is very satisfying. Even the title is exactly right and adds to the story’s depth.
I generally don’t like sad endings but the sadness was offset by the warmth I felt from the demonstration that love still has a power that can’t be extinguished even in the most desperate of situations. This added an element of hope and triumph to what is otherwise a very dark tale. All in all, “The Finite Canvas” is a powerful and well-executed piece that uses just the right amount of space and colour.
You can read the story here: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/12/the-finite-canvas