Elegant, often elegiac sketches by Syrian-born writer Alomar, now a resident of Chicago.
“He was born with a silver knife in his mouth. And he was its first victim.” Thus, in its entirety, one of Alomar’s short stories, this one with the simple title “The Knife.” Others stretch out to a page, a few others a little more than that, but all are masterpieces of compression, presented with the generally unironic matter-of-factness of a fable that, no matter how improbable the circumstances, behaves perfectly well according to its own logic: that knife could be literal just as easily as metaphorical, considering the violence and mayhem of the world. The title story is a sly allegory about the human desire for—well, for better circumstances than most of us enjoy, anyway, the teeth of the comb standing for aspirations that, even when fulfilled, do not go unpunished. Occasionally Alomar goes full-tilt for the classical fable, letting animals and sometimes even plants stand in for human beings; when humans and the natural world meet, it is seldom to our credit, as when an ear of wheat beholds a throng of human ears on heads that “were bent before their tyrant leader” and mistakes their posture for a boon. No good deed goes unpunished, indeed; in one fable worthy of Kafka, a writer is made to sit on his pen in torture, and his blood turns blue in the bargain. “He became prominent…and slowly came to his senses,” Alomar writes, leaving us to guess whether the writer became complicit in the regime that afflicted him or came to his senses in some other way, pleasant or horrific.
Swamps and streams, lightning and dogs all play a part in these beguiling, suggestive fables. The stories are of perfect length, but one wishes the book went on for much longer.