Diverse collection cuts a broad swath through the L.A. literary scene with fiction ranging from sparklingly edgy to patently peripheral.
It’s a mixed bag, sampling authors both established (McSweeney’s contributor Aimee Bender, novelist Rachel Resnick) and relatively unknown (Venezuela-born Anita Santiago, author of the remarkable “Flying Blind”). The stronger pieces are generally able to carry the rest, offering images and impressions sure to linger in readers’ minds. Most of the stories address life’s big questions through its minutiae, plotting the points of existence on a human map of banality writ large. In Karen Horn’s “Levinium,” an elderly man dying of cancer looks back on the “very personal matrix of his life” as a series of facts on a grid, obscuring the hugeness of the work he contributed to the Manhattan Project. The collection favors the time-worn themes of aging, death, motherhood and love in its various incarnations. The characters are not the traditional women these themes might suggest, however: They’re brash, thoughtful, intelligent, sassy. The tough lesbian protagonist of Bender’s “Debbieland” is a bully who grows up to collect the tears of her lover in a vial, poignantly preying upon the sorrows of others. In “Contraband,” Los Angeles Times Book Review poetry columnist Carole Muske-Dukes brings a refreshing subtlety to the age-old debate between political idealism and lived reality. Co-editor Ortale’s “Milk” spins a hauntingly surreal tale of a septuagenarian woman who starts to lactate, depicting her unlikely miracle with an impressive lack of sentimentality. Resnick’s images of rotting meat and a decaying relationship resonate in “Meat-Eaters of Marrakesh.”
Admirably pushes boundaries.