Three fiction pieces by author Fitzell track a monk seeking ultimate truth in cyberspace, a fashion model’s surreal life, and a spinster teacher’s traumatic pilgrimage to Ireland.
Fitzell’s trilogy (technically two short stories and a novella) shows a delirious love for language and blends sci-fi, fantasy, fabulism, and horror. The “sci-fi” opener, “Chapter & Verse,” concerns a monk who spends contemplative hours in the monastery writing and surfing the Web on his laptop (no kinky stuff, mostly word derivations and philosophy). When his own poetry takes on troubling undertones of doubt and atheism, Brother Clay wonders if the cosmopolitan computer is talking back to him. And should he listen? The puzzling, surreal “Icy” has a title that puns on the French “ici” (“here”) and is the name of a fictional Paris fashion boutique. Model Clotho remains a cipher, which may be the point, as others dress, undress, flatter, insult, and seduce her. Ultimately, she parades nude, although Fizell’s point here is not titillation but densely woven wordplay embroidered with rag-trade argot (“Just when she felt Bill tucked inside her pocket, he stole a non-returnable kiss, zipping up her expectations and then trashing her like a hand-me-down”). The longest, most accessible piece, the macabre “Tee Hee Hee,” offers Helen Tooms, a cadaverous, cancerous, grinning New England schoolmarm. Unhealed from a childhood of slights—the biggest was abandonment by her father, a drunken poet—spinsterish Helen finally visited the runaway patriarch in Ireland, but the experience did no good for the tortured daughter. With literary cues from Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” (Fitzell annotates it in footnotes), it’s a “horror” story mainly in the Flannery O’Connor sense of the spiritually grotesque. It’s definitely the strongest in a trio that may not click for genre fans who expect their shock, awe, and wonder packaged with more standard commercial tropes.
A varied trilogy of beautifully described prose pieces, some more esoteric than others.