REVIEWS BY A CAPPELLA ZOO




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Occasionally, we get the opportunity to share our thoughts on the outside work of our past contributors, as well as other projects that we think would interest readers of A cappella Zoo. To send something for possible review, especially new work relevant to magic realism and slipstream, email us at editorATacappellazoo.com.




A QUESTION OF STORY:


GREG GERKE'S


THERE'S SOMETHING


WRONG WITH SVEN


Flash fiction and short stories. BlazeVOX [books], 2010.



Greg Gerke’s collection There’s Something Wrong with Sven is fifty-four pieces of mostly flash fiction that span a thematic range. Gerke explores colonialism, some unquestioned stereotypes, disappointment in relationships, travel for its own sake, social commentary, history, and sex. Woven throughout is a central tone that is chaotic and humorous but also serious and dark.

In this collection, Gerke pushes the concept of story, often right off its edge. A reader will not find consistently developed scenes or linear narratives, and some of the pieces even lack conflict and resolution. Gerke’s best pieces develop action so that his wild characters and concepts are grounded somewhere. The paragraph-long piece “Blueberry” speaks volumes about disconnection and individuality in relationships when a blueberry granola bar, representing a request from husband to wife for a small change to his lunch lineup, becomes a third wheel in the bedroom. This kind of subtlety is daring, and in “Blueberry,” there is much more going on than just humor.

Another piece that is successful for similar reasons is the story-length piece “The Dead Father,” an emotional, ghastly extended metaphor that employs detailed scenes to represent a rift between father and narrator. There’s a lot of laughter in the collection, but there’s also a lot of suffering, and certainly, Gerke can shock a reader:

The dead father is on the bed next to him. ‘Hold me,’ he asks.
The youth swings at his face but misses. The dead father can’t tell—
his eyes are burned out, grisly holes.

Such images are real and terrifying and will stay with me for some time.

Readers might feel that many of the pieces just end too soon, sometimes in silly irony or a thematic shock-ending. The text demands a certain kind of reader, one who wants to build connections and finish some of these pieces on his or her own. Often, too many threads are left flailing about; I most appreciate experimental fiction when it is consistently deliberate and when non-traditional story structure is balanced by strong characters or concepts. The pieces in There’s Something Wrong with Sven aren’t always successful in this way.

Halfway through the collection, as I read another ill-fitting shock ending, I started to wonder what it means to be a reader. Does a bit of writing always need to leave the reader feeling comfortable and complete? I began to question my role in the process of storytelling, and I found this compelling. In this sense, the impact of Gerke’s collection extends beyond his fiction, if a reader is willing to be taken that far.

—Amanda DiSanto, assistant editor, A CAPPELLA ZOO