U.S. Trade paperback
Publication date: August 2006
640 pages; $ 19.95
Date reviewed 06-16-06
Reviewed by: Mario Guslandi © 2006
In his learned essay at the end of the present anthology Ken Keegan states that, basically, there are at least three different kinds of fiction: "genre fiction" mostly based on proven formulas, "literary fiction", a form of recognized cultural and artistic value with a realistic, character-based nature, and a third type of fiction, of non-realistic nature, which doesn't fit in the previous two categories and has no definite name. Or, to be more precise, which has too many names: "fantasy fiction", "speculative fiction" or, as Keegan prefers to call it "fabulist" and "new wave fabulist fiction".
So, in a nutshell, this is what "ParaSpheres" is about, a daring attempt to assemble standing examples of this particular type of narrative crossing the boundaries of literary or genre fiction.
Being not a literary critic but just a reader and a reviewer I won't explore further the issue, but I'll try my best to probe a massive volume of more than 600 pages featuring 51 pieces written by 44 authors. A Herculean task for the reviewer who can simply filter this huge amount of words, sentences, paragraphs and pages to spot what's actually good. No matter which label we put on the various types of fiction, in the end there are only two categories: good or bad.
Predictably, here you'll find any possible kind of stories. Some shocking or just disconcerting ("épater le bourgeois" still seems to be fashionable), some trying hard to be unusual, original, offbeat. A few stories are really awful, some are boring, others are interesting but a bit cryptic, and some simply do not work. But, thanks God, there are several good stories in this volume and I'll just tell you something about them.
"Lithia Park" by William Luvaas describes a series of ordinary (but not-so-ordinary) encounters in an ordinary small town, while in Janice Law’s compelling "Side effects" a breakthrough neurosurgical operation saves a man involved in a motorbike accident but changes him forever.
The unusual "The concert pianist’s flight" by Carole Rosenthal depicts a surrealistic marriage between a woman an a balloon and Stephen Shugart’s "Making faces" effectively examines other aspects of marital problems by means of a Halloween mask revealing the strained relationship of a married couple.
The excellent "The town news" by Justin Courter is the touching portrait of the brief friendship between a loner with an uncommon psychic gift and a female writer with a short life expectancy.
In Karen Heuler’s "Jubilee dreams" two sisters get to share their dreams, living "cartoon" adventures that will modify their perception of reality.
Bradford Morrow’s compelling contribution "Gardener of heart" is an affectionate, moving journey back to childhood memories by a man mourning his recently deceased twin sister.
Memories are the also the subject of Kevin Reardon’s "The cloud room", a splendid, melancholy tale featuring a gay who can’t forget his lost love, meeting an odd, sensitive boy in a hotel in Seattle.
Justin Courter’s "Skunk" – an excerpt from a promising novel in press- is an extremely enjoyable piece about the obsession and consequent addiction of a young man for skunk musk with its unpleasant social after-effects.
Charlie Anders provides a cute, modern twilight-zone tale ("Power couple or Love never sleeps"), where two fiancées try to force nature’s laws to secure a happy future.
Jeff VanderMeer’s "The secret paths of Rajan Khanna" represents fantastic fiction at its best, transforming the substance of every day’s life and unearthing the layers of different realities hidden beneath the surface of the common world.
"The white man" is yet another gem from Jeffrey Ford’s keyboard, portraying the many shades of magic which imbue human existence .
My favourite story, however, remains "The night of love’s last dance", an excerpt from an upcoming novel by Randall Silvis. Based on the memories of an old man reminiscing the pangs of love for an impossibly beautiful woman, this outstanding piece of fiction oozes out sensuality and nostalgia.
Of course my selection is probably deeply affected by my own literary taste and it's quite possible that I've chosen the most "traditional" stories in the book, instinctively shunning what looks to me a bit bizarre or too experimental. I don't deny this possibility so my personal choices are not necessarily to be shared by others. Never mind that. The volume is well worth reading and in such a large anthology, which will keep you busy for many nights, you'll certainly find what you're looking for.