A short fiction and poetry specialist collects 33 pieces of experimental, surreal, and mildly otherworldly prose.
Hemmings (Saints in Limbo, 2016, etc.) is also a poet, and these short works (some only paragraphs)—highly experimental, many previously published by small presses and in flash-fiction anthologies—oftentimes blur the line between narrative and verse. Indeed, one short-short that purports to be an excerpt from a longer piece (“Cat People Among Us”) is virtually indistinguishable from the bulk of the items, having very little to offer in the way of a standard beginning-middle-end structure. That said, there is as much here to intrigue readers as well as to infuriate them: strange Twilight Zone synchronicities such as the recurring imagery of department store mannequins (and what their private lives and thoughts might be like), surrealism, the year 1971, weirdly bereaved/dead parents, an on-again, off-again flame named Alice White, and a UFO-obsessed boho chick named Zin, who might well be the ideal readership for this type of material. (She dies of a brain tumor at the end of “Dancing the Alien,” one of the more linear tales, becoming the Hemmingsian version of Jenny from Erich Segal’s Love Story.) In “We Married for the Right Reasons,” the author channels the voice of doomed Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick during her short marriage to fellow addict Michael Post—better have an Internet search engine fired up for all the missing background information. “Buzz Fly,” perhaps the most conventional of the unconventional set, describes a 1971 gathering of increasingly disillusioned counterculture types whose time together is shattered by a freak aviation tragedy. More typical is this micro-narrative: “Trouble was disguised as bare trees. My father must have plunged-dived into his reflection, maybe dreaming of a new route to China. My mother sat at the window, paralyzed in her own frozen seas. She never asked for a tablespoon of love. The sled dogs waited, soft-eyed, panting like thieves.”
A bold, if opaque, collection that often feels like avant-garde poetry compressed from stanzas to paragraphs.