From poet and writer Svoboda (A Drink Called Paradise, 1999), a novella and 14 small and usually gnomic stories in a collection that has some moments of allure but puzzles and poses more than it stirs.
In the stories, Svoboda has a way of setting aside the credible in exchange either for a highly oblique way of telling or an archness in tone that then becomes what sustains the piece—as in "Sundress," about a derelict but highly glib couple who pretend to be house-sitters, or "Electricity" (about self-involved and uncaring parents), a complexly daring but unmoving piece. At times, the self-consciousness simply overwhelms what could in fact be moving, as in "Doll," about a brother and sister in childhood; the less believable "Cave Life," about two Flamenco dancers beaten down by a snowy winter; or "Psychic," a kind of trick O. Henry tale. Yet at some moments the power of real life does rise up out of Svoboda's words, as in "Petrified Woman," about a mother tyrannizing her grown daughter, or "Party Girl," a pitch-perfect rendering of teenaged girls at a slumber party. The title novella, filling something over half the volume, tries hard to lift emotion up out of squalor, but, by and large, the squalor wins. Having previously been institutionalized, Svoboda's narrator now lives in a trailer court that seems almost the pinnacle of grotesquerie and ruin. Semi-wild kids run around, the narrator (known as "the trash lady") survives on cat food and hot dogs, and in the trailers around her, when TV isn't being watched, there are sex, threats, beatings, and, before end, will be torture, madness, and murder. The trailer girl, trying to help just one lost victim, observes all as best she can, a kind of parallel to the herd of cows that gaze from the other side of the gulch.
Ambitious writing, but, for the reader, more effortful than rewarding.