Blue Has No South
by Alex Epstein
Translated from Hebrew by Becka Mara McKay
"Their love story ended many years ago. He still writes her name as a
solution to crossword puzzle clues of suitable length."
Reviewed by Annie Clarkson
Has No South is a collection of 115 short-short fictions, most
less than a page long, some only a sentence long.
it is best dipped into, like a book of poems. There are plenty to
choose from, and these poetic stories could well be described as
prose poems. There are many ways to approach a book like this: a
diligent read from cover to cover; a flick through the 131 pages to
find a random story; a glance down the contents list to find an
intriguing title. This is what gives a collection of short-short
fiction such appeal.
Blue Has No South is a very appealing collection: neatly
produced from cover design to typeface; by the way its very short
pieces of prose sit on the page; its huge list of enticing titles,
such as A Short, Sad, and Imaginary Guide to Prague, Minature
Metaphors of an Airport, The Bookmark as Murder Weapon, Lullaby for
an Old Chess Player. And these stories are crafted perfectly.
Each sentence, each word has been chosen and distilled into
thoughtful insightful prose.
stories are fables, puzzles, poems, true stories, warnings, dreams,
histories, myths, found stories. They contain characters from
history, myth and real life: Karl Brod and Franz Kafka, the writer’s
grandparents, Odysseus, Borges, Walter Benjamin, Sisyphus, Sigmund
Freud, angels, kings, fairies, poets, immigrants, chess players.
Mostly I found the stories clever, philosophical and playful. But,
there is also a sadness pervading some of them: the unclaimed love
messages in A Wayward Text Message, the ashamed children of
The Man Who Lived in an Elevator, and in A Story in Which
No Snow Will Fall a man "doesn’t even have someone to turn on
the light for."
are stories in this collection that can be read over and over again,
each reading giving more. Gloss for instance, is a story of
only nine lines that explores grief better than many full-length
novels. Other stories contain lines, images, thoughts that linger,
both puzzling and stirring the imagination: "Only the rain never
asks for a menu" or "Love is a new stamp in a dead man’s
passport." There is an illogical logic about them. As a collection
of stories, Blue Has No South, is cerebral as well as sensual;
grounded in everyday detail as well as philosophical.
fascinating aspect of this collection is summed up in the title
itself. What is interesting about the title is what is missing: not
that blue has a north, but that is has no south. There are echoes of
this throughout the collection. What is absent becomes the focus of
interest. In Imaginary Street Sweeper we are told "We’ve
never seen the old man using the broom"; in Landscape With The
Sinking of The Argo there is a crumpled ball of paper on which "were not written the words without which this story
does not end". In What was Between Us "nothing separates
us anymore". There are "almost-full" stories, novels that are
not written, things that happen on days without dates. Typewriters
are not used, a man does not have a handkerchief in his pocket, maps
have been torn from a phone book, people don’t remember, the future
is missing from a photo, Death draws a picture with nothing in it,
Freud omits details from his reports, a man drives without knowing
writer plays with this idea of "what is not" and makes us
question it. There are whole stories that explore this logic:
The Bookmark as Murder Weapon
Except for the title, any connection between this story and reality
is the product of the imagination of the author and the reader.
readers, we puzzle, we try to work out, and question what is story
and what is outside of the story. Perhaps a story can be anything an
author and a reader want it to be. It exists on the page and in the
imagination, and Blue Has No South is a collection that tests
out our notions of story, stretches them, and leaves us wanting to
dip back into the collection again and again.
|Annie Clarkson is a
poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her chapbook of
prose poems Winter Hands was published by Shadow Train Books
in 2007. Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies,
magazines and online, including Brace (Comma), Unsaid
Undone and This Road We’re On (Flax Books),
Transmission, Ouroboros Review, Succour, Mslexia, Dreamcatcher, Cake,
and Pank magazine.