You might remember that I’ve been sampling books from Indie presses that have been shortlisted for this year’s ReLit Awards. Not just novels, but short stories, even poetry (which is adventurous for me). For a month of Sundays (at least), I’m Buried in ReLit Print.
Krakow Melt, Daniel Allen Cox (Arsenal Pulp)
Sample: First 42 pages
Opening Sentence: Krakow is crows.
It’s a tough read. Not tough, big and bulky, but lithe and spindly. If books could practise parkour, Krakow Melt would excel.
It might be easy to overlook the word parkour, if you’re not familiar with the art, as one of many unrecognizable words in the opening pages of the novel– in with all the Polish words that dot the prose — but it’s key to understanding the story therein.
Defined in the book as the fine art of getting from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible, parkour is also about a way of dealing with what’s in your path. It’s a way of approaching obstacles, not only coping with them, but of using them to propel you onwards. It comes down to a single body’s means of resisting by drawing on the obstacles’ existences.
In an actual fight, a hands-on-against-opponent fight, it is not down to Radek’s single body.
“I realized that I had lost. For I was fighting not a man who disliked homos but a whole country that refused to acknowledge we existed. Is there a point in standing up for yourself if you’re invisible, if people will simply look right through you?”
But he answers his own question just a few lines later, there’s always a point to standing up for yourself. “Don’t make me light a match because I will win this war of visibility. You can see fires and the queers who start them for kilometres, especially at night.”
And Radek does start fires. He recreates miniatures of cities that have famously burned and he sets them on fire. And eventually he starts other fires with Dorota, with her pale skin and “long and licorice black” hair, and her love of body parts, “[g]uys, mostly, but different people”.
Polish culture and history and religion, art as activism, sexuality, Pink Floyd worship: all are explored in Krakow Melt, and in the language of parkour, each segment a starkly different chapter, seemingly an obstacle.
This is not a welcoming read; in some ways it makes you want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible; in other ways, however, it’s an art form, the philosophy of self defense mirrored in the text’s physicality and content.
Blood Relatives, Craig Francis Power (Pedlar)
Sample: First segment, “Losers of the World”
Opening Sentence: Dear Old Dad, he used to beat us with the toy pistol Sam won at the fair, singing, ‘Fee Fie Foe Fum, Fee Fie Foe Fum,’ so drunk his eyes were bloody pools with black olives in them.
Okay, so you know it’s not going to be a happy story, no smiling childhood memories of family outings on the Newfoundland shore.
But you can see how Craig Francis Power paints the sadness; in just a few lines you’ve got a vivid picture of Dear Old Dad to work with.
And if it’s not exactly funny (certainly not funny-ha-ha), it’s not as un-funny as it could have been.
You can imagine Charlie, the grown-up Charlie, with a string of beers lined up in front of him, snorting at the irony of that scene, trying to make sense of things.
Charlie is reaching for understanding in the aftermath of his father’s death. He’s examining his own life for the line that he wants drawn between a man born of a man like his father and the man he wants to be. But he’s reaching for that identity too.
He’s got some problems with what’s authentic, with relationships that have — over time — become fractured and broken, with distrusting what once came naturally.
“I’d never been to Quebec. Some nights after work I’d have poutine from a chip truck and feel more cultured and feed the birds the salty bits from the bottom of my cardboard bowl, but that’s as close to French as I’d ever come.”
Charlie’s not perfect, and he doesn’t pretend to be; ironically, the reader is drawn into a story they might rather not read because Charlie is simply Charlie. He’s standing on the edge, looking in, and you’re right there with him.
Marimba Forever, Jim Christy (Guernica)
Sample: All poems on pages ending with –7 (11 poems in total)
Opening lines: I saw her reflection/ In the window of the dollar store,
These poems have a strong sense of narrative for me; I can picture the scenes and still lose myself briefly in the language.
I can see those apartment buildings, those “cigarette lighter towers” with the “cataract windows”.
It’s easy to relate to the feelings that must have inspired “Walking with Amy Beth” and “Rocket 88”. (Even though one is mostly about staying and one is mostly about going.)
And even a not-very-often poetry-reader like me can appreciate the rhythm of lines like these:
“Leave it bitter in the breakfast nook
Or faking it in bed. Leave it like a lawn half-
Mown or a letter you can’t bear to mail.”
“With spittle sporadic as an erratic
Lawn sprinkler in these concrete crayons.
Toothbrush moustache grown over
Yellow dentures, shoe polish black back
Hair combed forward on balding crown.”
You know a “corduroy face” when you see one. You can imagine lips that smell like sage and oregano. You can pick up a copy of Jim Christy’s Marimba Forever.
Previous weekends’ samples? (You can check them out here, and here.)
The provocative title story in There is No Other, Jonathan Papernick (Exile).
Darryl Joel Berger’s story “Big Head” in Punishing Ugly Children (Killick).
Ten sharp and sassy poems from Dani Couture‘s Sweet (Pedlar).
The opening of Kathy Page‘s novel, The Find (McArthur&C0).
The first section of poems in Ian Williams‘ You Know Who You Are (Wolsak&Wynn)
The title story of Anne Perdue’s I’m a Registered Nurse Not a Whore (Insomniac)
Please let me know what you’ve been sampling this weekend?