Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Short reviews: books by Meg Tuite and Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia

Bound by Blue, by Meg Tuite

The book is a collection of entertaining short stories. They have their own little style (they should, she teaches writing and edits magazines) and meet the criteria of writing being like unto a controlled accident. Humorously grim, most of them, the stories feature characters (people who would name their dogs Rasputin, Fanta and Pigeon, for instance) affected with the often drugged out contemporary urban/suburban anomie that slides along the streets and curls about the housing tracts and apartment buildings we live in (a  mother who “rarely slept, lived on No-Doze and diet Cokes” or a mother and daughter watching TV “the claws of a laugh track scratching holes into our brains” or a teenage daughter looking for love in all the wrong places “I jumped into a truck with a guy who spent seven years never graduating from high school.”).

And Meg Tuite is good about piling on.  In one story a young college graduate, unhappy, unattached, and underemployed in dead end jobs and suffering severe depression for which no types of therapy are working, is on her way to Brazil after learning about a healer who might have the answer to her mental agony. As day breaks on the overnight flight to Brasilia, the already suffering woman finds herself in need of freshening up.

My lips were stuck together and my face had been plastered to that lumpy half-pillow all night, so I grabbed my bag and stepped [...] into the aisle...There was a line ahead of me. Lanky, teenage Brazilian girls from a soccer team were traveling with us. I was getting older by the minute just standing there as they tossed their hair and bantered back and forth in Portuguese.

Some of the funny material can turn ugly on you quickly, such as this scene where a young teenage girl comes home late after hanging out with her equally troubled friends and gets an earful from her mother:

“My God, what the hell are you up to?” The good thing was that Audrey’s mother was a drunk and her stepfather a bastard who sometimes beat Audrey’s mom. Audrey never had to explain. “What do you think, Mom? A lot of things happen here while you’re passed out on the couch.” “Don’t talk back to your mother, you little monster. You’re lucky I don’t kick your skinny-hag ass out of here!” And Audrey’s mom would stalk off for her stash of Advil and a Bloody Mary and that would be the end of it.

But the frankness and cynicism can also be endearing, such as the senior in a wheelchair who is tired of everyone feeling the need to extend a greeting:

A few more vague faces poke in on my space and contaminate me with their goodwill.

It’s easy to get hooked on the generous instances of laconic, drop dead writing (that language thing, the way people express themselves), and one story in particular, “What Was That I Was Searching For?” is like a slideshow history 12 loser boyfriends/relationships in a woman’s life, starting from puppy love in fourth grade through college to a young single professional working at a bookstore in Chicago. It's devastating, and I could quote the whole thing, but I don’t want to spoil the fun.

Playing Dead, by Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia

Riding home one evening after work I noticed on a sidetrack a long series of shiny but old fashioned looking train cars belonging to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which was in the city for a week of performances. That memory returned to me as I was reading Playing Dead, a book-length poem, a long, almost dreamlike train of observations about life, death, and spirituality, playing off the aura of the circus, the train, the tracks it runs on, the aspects of performance, the mystery of the surrounding ballyhoo.

...Trains enter higher devotion/find more souls for transport...

Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia assigns these dreamlike threads to three major players: the Ghost, the Main Attraction, and the Carny, who are then associated with the big top and its environs as a metaphor for life, life as performance, performance as life, the show stopping, spellbinding essence of which he captures concisely:

...the attraction is the hidden desire to imitate – there is no insistence upon the self in an audience...

Playing Dead is an epic recitation of the strange equations of mortality:  instincts and illusions, certainties and appearances. Even the con becomes consecrated in the sideshow symbols of play and delight—cards, cups, games of chance, but also shows the gravely serious potentialities of magic tricks, deception, and sleight of hand.

...miracles are precise, magic takes in/collateral damage...

The poet intones in an almost rosary like meditation issues of time long is a moment when pretending...

and space:

...where there is no more what less is left...

For the Main Attraction, the Carny, the Showstopper, the Ringmaster, and any number of hucksters and shills, ghosts, the whole freaking greatest show: be/was to act...

and what will be

...each act knows its end...

There is much good imagery in this poem, nicely choreographed on the page. An engaging work.

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