Glossolalia: New & Selected Stories
Written by David Jauss
Press 53, 2013
With prose that is precise and devastating, David Jauss presents seventeen new and selected stories about the resilience of people as they are dragged through the rough of isolation: isolation from God; isolation from love; from community. And in that isolation is discovery. Jauss builds and cultivates these immensely complex characters while never abandoning them completely. It seems to me that Glossolalia asks the question: what keeps these characters moving after taking nearly everything away?
In the last twelve months, I have not read many new short story collections. Novels seem to have taken over my bookshelf, and so consequently, I really forgot why I fell in love with the short form those years ago. It was the surprises, the gut-punch that you never saw coming and left you forgetting how to breathe, only to start the next gut-punch pages later. Stories that ended far sooner than you wish they had, and Glossolalia lands every blow with stories that challenge the form, stretch the narrative bounds, while also committing to honest and more traditional storytelling.
David Jauss has no limitations. “Apotheosis” is a story written in letter-form, by Friar Miguel Sabogal during the Spanish Inquisition, pleading his innocence on the charge of being a heretic. In the letter, the friar recounts his story about torture and the fragility of the spirit as it is reduced to its fewest possible components. “The Bigs” is a story about a baseball player from the Dominican Republic playing for a Double A team. The story is written in first person and in a dialect that lends such authenticity to the narrative voice that the reader can nearly hear it. The title story, “Glossolalia,” is a much more straightforward narrative that shows what happens when a boy’s father has a complete mental breakdown. Jauss’ great attention to nuance is what really sells these stories: the nuance of voice, the nuance of character. Young fiction writers should read this collection and learn from one of the truly great masters of the form, and the casual reader should simply allow these stories to blow them away.
There seems to be a reoccurring theme throughout the collection of bad fathers, broken fathers. Stories about fatherly faith gained and lost and then found again. What Jauss achieves with this collection is a brutal realism, the hard callous that insulates us within our darkest dreams and our deepest regrets. But ultimately these stories remind the reader of the amazing resilience of people, of how “a life could break so utterly, then mend itself.”
Review by Adam Padgett
© 2014, All Rights Reserved
Manuel Gonzales’s short story collection, The Miniature Wife and Other Stories, was recently awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Congratulations, Manuel!
Written by Curtis Ackie
Pouting Bear, 2012
Curtis Ackie’s short story collection, Goldfish Tears, transports readers into surrealist landscapes painted with mostly stunning detail. While there are some nominal flubs that take the reader back to reality, most of the collection keeps the reader believing in Ackie’s world—a world where the sun forgets to rise one day, a husband builds a machine to “correct” his wife’s appearance, and a woman wakes to find that her stoop has dissolved into absolute nothingness. The premises of Ackie’s stories are wrought with potential. The climaxes aren’t always grand—which is a good choice that keeps the stories grounded, despite their bizarre beginnings. The endings are not always as succinctly approached as I’d prefer, but they are satisfying nonetheless. The book also contains a series of illustrations from Lorena Matić, complimenting the book’s tone with snapshots of individual scenes.
Most of the stories are written in present tense, hurtling the reader directly into the inciting incident. From a linguistic standpoint, you can tell that Ackie is fresh off a poetry collection as he writes these stories, inserting a number of poetic devices into his prose—alliteration pops up everywhere and some pieces have a distinct lyrical quality. His environments are clear and he finds precise ways to describe otherworldly occurrences. For example, in handling the surrealist elements in “The Colour of Nothingness,” Ackie writes these vivid lines:
“She runs her hand along the doorframe and then sticks the left one out. Gobbled up by the colourless nothing, the digital pentad ghosts out of sight, but the sensation in her wrist suggests the invisible appendage still exists. Unnerved, she pulls her hand back in and waggles her fingers about in front of her face to make sure all is in order; four and a thumb, normality.”
This simple scene helps depict that which is literally undepictable—Ackie describes the look of “nothing” through a character’s curiosity about the blank void on her porch. Her sensation is captured by the description of a phantom limb, but it isn’t overdone. And rather than bluntly describing her worry with some overused platitudes, Ackie shows the character’s somewhat vexed thoughts through her actions. The character counts her fingers to make sure they are all there, and this simple action clues the reader into her state of mind. Ackie does this all with active text and a keen awareness of how his character is behaving. He lets his characters make choices within their worlds rather than simply having the worlds exist around them.
However, there are a few moments when this breaks down. In some instances of character action, Ackie loses his bead on the character’s motives and they come off as detached character sketches. The characters are occasionally said to “see” the environment or “hear” a sound in a generic, explanatory way. This takes the reader back to a place of observance rather than engagement with the world. These simple phrases tend to damage the beautiful language highlighted in “The Colour of Nothingness.” In some settings, these descriptors are useful in conveying a character, but in Ackie’s surrealist realm, I think it pulls the reader too far out. In these instances, the reader is aware that this is just a story on a page—it shatters Ackie’s otherwise adept world-building. But that is a picky thing to gripe about, since a lot of the stories retain the active presence that Ackie’s tales demand. The immediacy of his present tense POV and the penchant for lyricism across the book keeps Ackie’s stories connected to the reader. Goldfish Tears is a solid collection of short stories from this poet and novelist.
Review by James R. Gapinski
© 2012, All Rights Reserved