Cure All
 by Kim Parko

2010, Paperback
First collection

Kim Parko lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, US with her husband and dog. She teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Read an interview with Kim Parko

"My ancestors were reincarnated as ocular migraines."

Reviewed by Jarred McGinnis

I started by judging this book by its cover. Caketrain Press has a habit of binding their journal and books with the best cover art in existence. As I was clicking purchase now for issue seven of Caketrain's journal, Elene Usdin's cover photograph of Kim Parko's Cure All was enough for me to add to basket. I'm glad I did. The photo is an excellent illustration for the prose and verse within. Parko's style and tone is what you would expect from a Caketrain author, short dense text that drips with strange melancholy imagery.

Cure All is a lonely place where bodies are mutilated or transformed but most often sprouting vegetation. There is little direct communication (except a few stories in the form letters addressed to Dear Sir or Madam) and there is a constant threat of violence, usually sexual, from the male inhabitants such as "the rapist" that haunts several stories, the negligent suitor of Infirm or as Bruce who must pre-emptively destroy Molly's new found strength in Fists. But it is not a world without amusements; Spine humorously ends with little girls putting a fetching sundress on a disembodied spinal column.

The collection is mostly flash fiction with a scattering of poetry and the occasional folk remedy such as one of my favourite, IF YOU CANNOT SMILE AT A BABY BORROW AN OLD MAN'S TEETH (capitalisation is the author's, not mine). Her poet's precision and dexterity with language serves her prose well.  Phrases such as wilt of her shoulders from Eras vein the text.

I initially reacted poorly to Parko's paragraphs of dense and strange imagery punctuated by a summarizing sentence. The coy but gorgeous descriptions, the repetition of themes and similar tone of the stories threatened to make each seem formulaic. When read one after another, these flash fiction pieces can feel like a comedian's delivery: set up, punch line, joke, set up, punch line, joke. A few of her stories do offer little more than rich imagery where mundane and fantastical are described in equal terms, but they are the exception.

The majority of Parko's stories in Cure All reward multiple readings, and beyond the formulated structure lies a richness of everyday life told in a fascinating and new way. For example, in the sum total of three short paragraphs, Schoolgirl gives you the awakening consciousness of a young girl, her discomfort with her emerging sexuality and the coda of an allusion to her fate as a woman in the form of a post-mastectomy lunch lady. The fact that it took nearly as many words for me to prosaically enumerate the themes of the story as it took for Parko to write the piece itself is a testament to her skill.

One of my favourite pieces from Cure All is Doppelganger where a girl trades her security blanket for a doppelganger lover while her mother kayaks in a trunk with hoarded oars. And another, Ancestry opens with the perfect line, "My ancestors were reincarnated as ocular migraines" and finishes beautifully in a handful of equally good sentences. I look forward to reading more from this author and glad that her work has found a home at Caketrain.

Read a story from this collection in Diagram

Jarred McGinnis has won a few awards, has been published a handful of times but he has only ever loved one woman.
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