Everyday people endure discrimination, hypocrisy, and occasional bouts of psychosis in Bacopa’s (Eating Ice Cream in Armageddon, 2017) short story collection.
In “A Day with the Professor,” an apparent substitute teacher walks into a philosophy class at Yale University. In response to his seemingly deranged ramblings (“The Mush has a ghost, even though the ghost is dead”), the students employ their knowledge of philosophy to explain what the man is presumably teaching them. They’re not the only characters in this collection to face seemingly insane behavior from others. For example, British anthropologists visit a village in “The Drummers,” in which the residents’ endless drumming takes precedence over caring for sickly villagers—or mourning their inevitable deaths. In the darkly humorous “Letters from the Fourth Reich,” an author (also named Gabriel Bacopa) corresponds via email in Los Angeles with a woman, Labeeba, in Germany. He laments the escalating discrimination against people of color in the United States (stoked by its leader, Ronald Pump). However, his statements later become confusing, as he claims that he escaped from prison after being there a year, and Labeeba responds that he was only there for 45 minutes. In other tales, characters experience possibly psychotic episodes. John, a forensic pathologist in “Introspection,” believes that a body on a slab is identical to his, and he’s soon convinced the corpse is him. In the concluding story, “Fainting Girls,” John (apparently a different person) is so “devastatingly handsome” that women pass out in his mere presence. A doctor tries to decipher what’s triggering these reactions, considering the possibility of psycho-emotional conflicts or something paranormal.
Bacopa’s straightforward prose, which includes bare-bones descriptions, perfectly suits these seven stories, as most events are transparently metaphorical. Readers may even interpret them as allegories. John of “Introspection,” for example, is quite understandably comfortable with the notion of death and only reflects upon it—and fears it—when it’s literally staring him in the face. One of the strongest stories here is “The Hypocrisy Foundation,” in which Dr. Harris, a sociologist, develops a scale to measure people’s “fakeness,” which he later upgrades to “hypocrisy.” He essentially determines that the richer a person is, the more hypocritical they are; however, a subsequent push for an egalitarian society may, in fact, be the work of wealthy hypocrites. Bacopa deftly examines class discrimination in various tales, most frequently portraying rich people taking advantage of those in poverty. In “StarInsured,” for instance, the titular insurance company rakes in profits from a prediction of a meteor wiping out civilization. An alien, who knows full well that there is no such meteor, arrives on Earth in human form to try to persuade people of the truth—but persistent fear keeps citizens paying the annual premium and making the company richer. Sometimes odd phrasing detracts from otherwise enjoyable stories, though, as in this passage from “The Hypocrisy Foundation”: “The musician signaled for the camera to take its gaze off him and mute for a moment.”
Bizarre but often compelling tales with discernible morals.