Pee On Water
 by Rachel B Glaser

Publishing Genius
2010
First Collection







"Sometimes landing a boyfriend feels like being drafted in the NBA. Well, I've always wanted to play, ever since I was little watching games. I think I can really help this ballclub out of its recent difficulties. Which thought will be the last to sulk around her brain understood? Her family feels as far away as a wallet-sized photograph."


Reviewed by Tania Hershman

This is a beautiful-looking book, the cover is stunning, but I must admit I had to get past my confusion at the title. Pee on Water - an instruction? A description? All became clear when I read the title story at the end of the book but this distracted me while I was reading and so Rachel B Glaser's stories probably had to work a little harder with this reader because of that. The fact that the stories won me over is testament to their inventiveness, their power to surprise and disturb me, to sometimes knock me sideways, both with her linguistic playfulness and the themes of her stories.

Sideways is how Glaser approaches things, from bizarre angles and directions, wrong-footing the reader, which is something I relish. I like to be made to work for it. The Magic Umbrella, which opens the collection of 13 stories, begins as if a traditional story about a character called Jen (well, one involving an umbrella with a face!) but then, two paragraphs later we find out that this is just a story writtten by "Agnes... when she was seven", and then several pages later we discover that Agnes is a character invented by Jo... and so on. The final story creator is not human at all, but I won't spoil where the story goes. It is quite wonderful.

I was unsure at first whether The Jon Lennin Xperience would hook me. Another virtual reality video game story? But there is much more to this story of Jason and his gradual obsession with a game in which he is John Lennon (or, Jon Lennin).
An instrumental Beatles medley played and Jason felt moved in an embarassing, immediate way. Giraffes swayed in a jungle. The Beatles ran through the scenes and it really looked like them. Alive like them.
Of course, John Lennon's tragic end is known, and Jason is distressed to discover what the game makes him do in order to "win".

The story that absolutely and utterly floored me, the one I still can't stop ruminating about, is The Kid (which you can read by following the link at the end of this review). An apparently ordinary tale of a nameless "kid", who is working for a drug dealer, his girlfriend and the dog, this becomes one of the most appallingly sad and horrifying morality tales I have ever read. To say any more would be to ruin it for you. Here is a small taste, a foreshadow, from when the kid has just met the girl:
The kid showed the girl his beagle dog, who he was in love with. The girl reached out to pet its head, the beagle stared back, unimpressed. It took the dog years to fall in love. The girl could do it in about a month.
Glaser makes her point very quietly, without pyrotechnics, with clean and simple language, in under 7 small pages. A mistake can cost you, Glaser is saying. And: You never know what's coming. A masterpiece.

Suffice it also to say that Glaser writes about broken people and broken objects, about the unfixable-ness of all things. About strange connections in strange places, about lack of causes and effects. About not taking anything for granted, not assuming anything. There is humour but it is dark. There is a great deal of tragedy, such as Glaser's 3-page 9/11 story, My Boyfriend But Tragic which uses words in such a way as to convey the utter surrealism of an unfathomable event:
Tom was trying to newscast, but it got too smoky. He was commemorated on a plate, but the kind you can't eat off of. Tom got mushed in a sandwich. He was bankrupt of parts. He was on clearance, then closed. An airplane missed its mother. Someone ordered clam chowder optimistically. Birds had anxiety attacks. A building got embarassed.
With the final story, the title story, Glaser takes on quite a task: a short history of the world, in 8 pages, the like of which you have never read.
Earth is round and open, whole and beating in its early years. The stars are in a bright smear against the blackboard. A breath pulled so gradual the breath forgets. ...Tiny cells slide into tiny cells. The wind learns to whistle.... Beings start dragging with them, little lives... They eat plants. They eat stomachs. Lick bones. They pee on grass. Pee on dirt. Pee on snow.
This begins to explain the title, that we have evolved so far that now we pee not on dirt, on grass, but onto water in oh-so-sophisticated toilets. Have we really evolved at all? To me, this story is right on the cusp of poetry and prose, as is much of the book.

This collection is not an easy read, impossible to digest more than one story at a time, but I sense that this book, these stories, are somehow important, and I am glad to have read them, both as a reader and as a writer.  You could call them "experimental" but only in the sense that telling old stories in a new way - stories of love and loss, of family and of tragedy - is always an experiment. Rachel B Glaser unpicks and unearths, and does it succinctly and with a sharp-pointed stick. I want to read more. 

Read a story from this collection in elimae


Tania Hershman is editor of The Short Review. Her first collection, The White Road and Other Stories, was commended, 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. Tania is currently writer-in-residence in the Science Faculty at Bristol University, working on a collection of biology-inspired fictions.

Tania's other Short Reviews: Etgar Keret & Samir el-Youssef "Gaza Blues"

Melvin J. Bukiet "A Faker's Dozen"

Rusty Barnes "Breaking it Down"

Roy Kesey "All Over"

John Klima (ed) "Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories"

Kelley Eskridge "Dangerous Space"

18 Lies and 3 Truths: StoryQuarterly 2007 Annual

Aimee Bender "Wilful Creatures"

Paddy O'Reilly "The End of the World"

Annie Clarkson "Winter Hands"

Yannick Murphy "In a Bear's Eye"

Declan Meade (ed) "Let's Be Alone Together"

Lise Erdrich "Night Train"

Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing

Alexandra Chasin "Kissed By"

Tamar Yellin "Kafka in Bronteland"

Mary Miller "Big World"

Ali Smith "The First Person and Other Stories"

Chris Beckett "The Turing Test"

Petina Gappah "An Elegy for Easterly"

Sean Lovelace "How Some People Like Their Eggs"

Amnesty International "Freedom: An Anthology of Short Stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights"

A L Kennedy "What Becomes"

Davy Byrnes Stories

Janice Galloway "Collected Stories"

Peter Orner "Esther Stories"

SeŠn ” FaolŠin "Selected Stories"

"The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis"

Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud "A Life on Paper"

Jonathan Papernick "There is No Other"

Edgar Bayley "The Life and Memoirs of Dr Pi"

Anthony Doerr "Memory Wall"

Carol Emswhiller "The Collected Stories"
                     
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Rachel B Glaser is a graduate of The University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s MFA Program in Fiction. Rachel has taught at Elms College and Flying Object. She was a Juniper Festival 2011 Writer-in-Residence. Her work has been published in McSweeney’s, New York Tyrant, and others. Minutes Books published her poetry chapbook, Heroes Are So Long.

Read an interview with Rachel B Glaser