Reviews, Vol. 5.1, March 2011
Ampersand Books, 2011
Perfect bound, 315 pp., $17.95
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Some of them are renditions of tall tales:
You could hear his heart breaking like thunder. And I don’t mean “like thunder” the way a poet might mean it, no, I mean it actually sounded like thunder because he was just that damn big. And his heart was that much bigger. There’s nothing poetic about a man that size falling apart, not for the folks down below who may as well live in the shadow of a dam held together by cracks. (“Big Blue,” Steve Himmer)
Some of them are interpretations of video game characters:
The plumber always dies with the same surprised look on his face, his mouth hanging open as he flies upward through the air before being born again at the beginning of the world. He’s tiny and frightened without his mushrooms and his fireballs, desperately banging his head against blocks, looking for more. Sometimes, between reincarnations, the plumber thinks he senses God trying to decide whether to give him another chance or to just bag the whole thing. (“Mario’s Three Lives,” Matt Bell)
But all of them, as the subtitle of RE: Telling indicates, have their place in this “anthology of borrowed premises, stolen settings, purloined plots, and appropriated characters.” With a lineup as diverse as Michael Martone, Roxane Gay, Heather Fowler, Corey Mesler, Alicia Gifford, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Molly Gaudry, and Pedro Ponce, among others, you know it has to be good. And it is.
Some of the pieces are more experimental and fun to piece together, like Michael Martone’s short, “Borges in Indiana” (don’t miss the sorta-metacommentary piece by Josh Maday, “Distractus Refractus Ontologicus: The Dissemination of Michael Martone”) and others are hilarious re-interpretations of familiar characters, like the couples from I Love Lucy in Alicia Gifford’s “Desilu, Three Cameras.”
At one point, Jack and Jill spring to life, go to Amsterdam, live life on the edge, and end up broken (and broke) (“Jack and Jill,” Jim Ruland). The writing provides here, like in some of the most effective tales in the collection, fully realized characterization with the author at a complete remove, yet somehow those Lucille Balls and Marios are at the same time reflections of our own imperfect selves. The less effective stories in the collection are too abstract, bordering on indecipherable, but even those have their fun moments.
Josh Maday’s “Distractus Refractus Ontologicus: The Dissemination of Michael Martone,” is a signal story of the anthology. It is both postmodernist anthemic and a refraction of the entirety of the collection, just as “this Michael Martone may in fact be that and/or the other Michael Martone–Michael Martone the locksmith, the winemaker, the writer, the judge, the hockey player, the teacher; the fourth grader staring at the mirror reflecting the image of Michael Martone back into Michael Martone, where Michael Martone is appropriated, refracted, disseminated.” The collection likewise refracts and distorts the original stories as they interpreted, re-purposed, and framed anew.
Overall, the collections’s stories are well-selected and cohesive as an anthology. And P.S. “The Plot to Kidnap Stonehenge” by Corey Mesler is hilarious, especially for anyone who’s read the Arthurian legends.