Good Friday to you, Story366! Today I took part in a reading for a cool little anthology put out by a small press here in Springfield, Pencil Box Press. It’s run by a creative writing professor from Drury University, Jo Van Arkel, and the press specializes in limited run, independent books. This year’s anthology is called Animal Tails and is a book about animals. Smack dab in the middle is a bestiary abecedarian of sorts, twenty-six pieces that go from A to Z, one animal per piece. Karen actually helped to edit that portion and assigned me K. To me, there were three choices: kangaroo, koala, and komodo dragon. I chose the former, though gave a shout-out to the other two in my piece (“Kangaroo Powerpoint”). All in all, it was a really nice evening, lots of local poets reading their contributions, including Karen, my good friend and colleague Lanette Cadle, and several other people from the Springfield writing community. It was a true testament to not only the talent level we have around here, but what a local project, with the right vision and ambition, can become. Check Animal Tails out—only 250 copies were printed and there aren’t a whole lot left.
I got to come home tonight and read from my friend Robert Lopez’s newest collection, Good People, put out by the folks at Bellevue Literary Press. Robert and I were some of the early people on Dzanc Books, and it has always been my honor to be on a press with writers like him (and so many others), a writer I admire for his mad skills, and because he’s a cool guy. Good People is his second collection, after Asunder, and he’s also written two novels, Kamby Bolongo Mean River and Part of the World.
I read several stories from Lopez’s collection and have a feel for what he does. The opening story, “Family of Man on Isle of Wight,” is a five-page, one-sentence monologue about a guy who, well, has issues. The title story, “Good People,” is about two guys, driving along, having a conversation about women (more or less). The story I’m writing about tonight, “Goldbricks,” is about a guy on a boat with some father issues. The word “about” is really tricky in these descriptions, as Lopez’s stories don’t really follow traditional narrative paths, nor do they have traditional plots or conflicts, certainly no Freitag’s triangles. In a way, what Lopez does is place someone in a situation, then take that opportunity to write detailed character sketches of that someone, utilizing stream-of-consciousness narration, tangential anecdotes, and psychological evaluations. It’s a really cool effect, a really cool and innovative way to tell sotries.
“Goldbricks,” as noted, is “about” a guy on a boat. And that, for most of the story, is all we get, especially in the frontstory. We know he is not a captain and there is not captain on the boat. Eventually, we are fed more info, that this guy is on a boat with other people and they need rescuing, or at least someone to take charge to help them rescue themselves. It’s made clear, though, by the narrator, that he’s not that guy. This self-declaration initiates a long exploration into his past, one idea leading to the next—this one’s particularly stream-of-conscioussy—the whole story one paragraph of a character explaining, in the most-roundest about ways, why he’s not captain material.
That’s the structure, Lopez’s plan of attack, but entrenched in all this style are a lot of themes, mainly some supreme daddy issues. The narrator—pejoratively dubbed “Daisy” by his dad once, because of how soft he is—has been a disappointment to his asshole dad his entire life and it’s left him scarred. Most of the anecdotes that make up this guy’s narration involve disappointing his father, whether it’s losing the family heirloom watch or not having sight in one eye. Every little side trip he takes away from his father’s bullying only leads him back to his father’s bullying. Throw in the fact that his brother is also a bully, a petty thief who’s pissed at him for not joining in on his crimes, and it’s not the most nourishing of upbringings for Daisy. A mother is never mentioned.
So, given this background, and the neurotic voice in which it’s all relayed, we have a character who has an opportunity to be more, to be the take-charge guy his father envisioned and save the people on the boat. Does Daisy grasp that opportunity? Is this the story of how an enfeebled, damaged man redeems himself, or is the story of a enfeebled, damaged man hides under a pile of life jackets and hope that someone everything will work out? You’ll have to read for yourself to see.
Robert Lopez, at least in the three stories I’ve read from Good People, has a unique way of telling his stories, and it’s a good way, an effect that I enjoyed.. I really like everything I’ve ever read by Lopez, a true artist and master of his craft. If you haven’t read him before, you should. If you’ve read him before, read more.