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Review of These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart by

These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart

by Izzy Wasserstein

Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.

Sometimes we get stuck in a loop, too stubborn for our own good. Sometimes we have good reason to be stubborn. I was thinking a lot about trauma as I read These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart, by Izzy Wasserstein. This is a novella that knows exactly what it’s about and does exactly what it’s meant to do. Although it didn’t end up wowing me, I still thoroughly enjoyed its premise and execution. I received an eARC in exchange for a review.

If Dora knows one thing, it’s op sec. She left a commune over a disagreement about security: as anarchists, they wanted their commune to be as open as possible, whereas Dora believed more stringent checks and balances were required to keep out people who might have nefarious, ulterior motives. When she is called back to the commune to investigate the murder of her ex-girlfriend, Kay, Dora’s worst fears seem to have been proved well-founded. Her investigation will take her into neighbourhoods even more destitute than the one where the commune crouches and pit her against enemies who wear her face from before her transition.

Much of my criticism of These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart might be waved away by simply saying, “It’s a novella, Kara.” The other characters are paper thin. The villain is predictable, and his overarching motives are shrouded in convenient shorthands. The setting is something ripped straight out of Verhoven, Robocop tinted for modern storytelling. These criticisms levelled at a novel-length work might stick. Applied to a novella, however, they actually become strengths. Because this is not really a mystery.

No, this is a story about identity. The brilliance of this story lies in how Dora deals with one of her clones, whose life she spares.

Here come the spoilers.

Dora deals with her rescued clone’s emergence into individuality quite gracefully. I appreciate how much she respects Theo’s agency, to the point that she carefully avoids using pronouns until Theo, at the very end, settles on they/them. This is a potent reminder of the fluidity of gender: Theo might be genetically identical to Dora, but their experiences and memories are distinct. I suppose that should mitigate my discomfort over the idea of Theo and Dora having sex … still.

I appreciate that Wasserstein acknowledges in the afterword that this development is hella weird, that she simply couldn’t find a way to tell the story without it happening because Theo insisted. The consent thing isn’t as much an issue for me—I understand Theo’s perspective there—but … yeah … hmm. As an asexual and sex-averse person, I’ve never much thought about sex with a partner—would partnered sex with myself be … better? Even if that self is me through a funhouse mirror, as Dora describes her pre-transition clones? See, this ese are the important questions science fiction is here to ask!

Gonzo sexuality subplots aside, Dora and Theo’s nascent friendship is the heart of this story. The way that Theo goes from enemy to lover to friend is very endearing. Set against a backdrop of post-apocalyptic, capitalist purgatory, these connections become all the more significant. Dora, now that she has left the commune, is very alone and lonely. Although her being alone hasn’t changed by the end of the story, I think her loneliness has started to unravel. She starts to see that in order to protect, one has to have something worth protecting.

These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart is as cute as a semi-noir, grim dystopian science-fiction novella can be. Wasserstein effectively pulls from established tropes, particularly around cloning, to tell a story of choosing found family over blood and staying true to one’s ideals while still learning to bend and grow. It’s worth an afternoon of your time.


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