In the Paris Review Issue 237 writers grapple with the existential and the absurd, sometimes to great effect, and other times missing the mark. I was particularly drawn to the first story, ‘The Beyoğlu Municipality Waste Management Orchestra’ by Kenan Orhan, where a garbage collector begins to collect instruments after the city cracks down on people’s possessions. The absurdity builds until he not only collects all the instruments for an orchestra, but also all the players. At the end, the police find out what he was doing, and so locked him up with objects that the speaker believed had also been arrested. It was a story reminiscent of dystopian novels but had a twinge of humor.
Another highlight included Ada Limón’s poem ‘Power Lines’ in which a power line crew works to remove a tree in the way. And its final lines worked beyond the piece, “Now the tree is gone. The men are gone, just a ground-down stump / where what felt like wisdom once was.”
And the third piece I felt worked elegantly was Joy Katz’s creative non-fiction essay ‘Tennis is the Opposite of Death: A Proof’, which confronted a father’s death and Katz’s mortality. Its interplay with memory, tennis, and the father-daughter relationship held an emotional urgency.
However, while those pieces were my highlights, there were some moments that felt incongruous and sometimes didn’t work. I was particularly hesitant with the subject matter of ‘Rainbow Rainbow’ by Lydia Conklin in which a pair of teenagers fawn over an adult. It then broaches uncomfortable territory when one of the teenagers is fondled by the adult. And while I’m sure Conklin meant well in the conveyance of the adult realizing what she did was wrong, but it didn’t have a strong enough impact to excuse the actions beforehand (and maybe that was intended). Though, the damage of the adult didn’t seem to register or truly play out for the characters, and so it felt like a piece whose characters thought nothing but positively about the encounter.
I was also left underwhelmed by the story ‘The Lottery in Almeria’ by Camille Bordas, which had an initially interesting premise with the lottery and the inherited house of the father. Though, I felt that it fizzled out when the relationship with the sister was not really vibrant. I thought that the textbook writer writing the beginning of the story worked well, though it didn’t seem to follow through in the end.
There were some stunners, but also some stories that didn’t work too well for me.
Final Rating: 3/5
The Spring 2021 issue of American Short Fiction contains seven short stories from such writers as Anthony Veasna So to Whitney Collins. While this wasn’t a themed issue, I noticed that about half of the stories focused on the loss or vacuum of an absent father. It was interesting to see the way each character approached and processed loss differently.
Though, for me I think the best story was ‘How Soon Until We’re Deadly?’ by Kevin Moffett. It detailed the intervening moments after his father’s death, and the karate dojo he attended to fill that fatherly role. The voice of the story was vibrant, with moments of humor sprinkled in. The speaker, at the point of writing the story, had already been able to reflect and understand what happened, which gave a strong anchor for me to hold onto.
I didn’t particularly enjoy other stories in the issue. I felt that ‘Bitten’ by Holiday Reinhorn was too surface level and relied too much on pop culture. And ‘The Get-Go’ by Elizabeth McCracken had awkward sentences and didn’t bring anything fresh to the conversation of loss.
Final Rating: 3/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.