In these poetic fictions, the poet and translator Gibbons (Last Lake, 2016, etc.) explores the metaphysics of ordinary moments.
The 35 microfictions in this slender book absorb the reader in the environs of a lakefront city that can only be Chicago and its sprawling suburban hinterlands, with an almost reverential attention to their detail. In “Mekong Restaurant, 1986,” the reader is encouraged to notice with fresh eyes the glitter of broken glass in the “raw weedy vacant lots…like sequins on fields of ragged green and crumbling gray.” In the masterful “Near the Spring Branch,” a man remembers the landscape of his youth and thinks of all the lost empty space that would once have made the minor gestures of nature—a small sinkhole, a killdeer’s track—worthy of both notice and record. Read separately, and with enough care and attention to let their minor notes ring clear, these stories swell with the tender grace of the everyday; however, as a whole the collection cannot sustain the dreamlike mimicry of its tone. “Time Out!” and “Courthouse,” for example, rely on language play seen nowhere else in the book. “A Man in a Suit” and “Persephon? at Home” both charm as individual stories but introduce an element of speculative fiction—the man in the suit materializes from a blob of glup outside a convenience store; Persephone is that Persephone unhappily homemaking in the underworld—that is jarring when paired with the more restrained psychological regionalism of the rest of the texts. Yet, in spite of whatever awkwardness the collection suffers as a book in toto, there is never a moment in these pieces which breaks the reader's total immersion in Gibbons’ characters or those characters' equal immersion in the singular moments of their lives. Here is truth so close to beauty and beauty so close to truth as to make no difference which came first.
A book which intends to be met at the level of its language but which suffers from a sustained cover-to-cover read—Gibbons’ most recent stories are best savored singularly.