Fog Gorgeous Stag
 by Sean Lovelace

Publishing Genius
2011

Second Collection






"Gorgeous are the chemists. The crystallized trees, the way they scrub the sky. The way the snowflakes stagger."


Reviewed by Pauline Masurel

There are forty-two slices of Fog Gorgeous Stag in this collection. Some of the great joys of these occur in the tiny, disassociated slices of statements that can bring a smile by their very digression. In God [2], ostensibly about a relic from Bonnie & Clyde's murder spree, the reader is gifted with a description of the three types of people who frequent a cafe, "...those who routinely cut their lawn, those who never cut their lawn, and those woebegone souls who dreamed of one day owning a lawn – green and vast, lush as a secret handshake, as low flames burning atop a lake along a back road – of weighing that significant question: to cut, or not to cut."

In this collection, celebrities pen letters a lot. Often semi-literate, these are tiny mini-stories within fictions. For example, in Prayer of Gun Ownership,
a celebrity pens a letter concerning grease: [i guess i was 12 my first remington said the little book their to clan the gun that the gun was packed in shippin grease and oil clean it good fore you go shoot thangs i took it to grandpa and says grandpa how to do this i don't know much i am 12 and he put his cigar down my remington walked outside shot it right up the air i mean both barells loud handed it to my hands said boy that's how you clan a damn shotgun]
Square brackets are often used in these pieces, as are interludes in capitals I never did figure out exactly what these conventions signify [OR don't]. I'm not sure that it really matters though.

Lists also occur frequently, such as, "Rubber hatchets. Corn cob pipes. Fried Pepsi. Fried ears of corn. A laser that will etch your own face onto the handle of a lint remover ($8)". This is the point, for me, at which words have become semi-abstract. I can glory in the sound and the rhythm and the surreal contrasts, but what's to be made of a piece like Spoons, which segues from a few disconnected statements to a list of many different types of spoon, as pilfered by Henry Ford and tumbling from his pocket as he drowns. Perhaps it's like modern art or furniture in antique shop windows. If you have to ask "Why?" (never mind, "How much?") then you know you can't afford it.

There are a lot of quotations in this review, partly because I suspect that most readers won't have encountered anything like Sean Lovelace's writing before. Although there may be a number of students on MFA Creative Writing programs in the United States who have read (if not written) rather too much work that looks a bit like this: some of it good, some of it bad. But how do we tell the difference. Is there one (and does it matter anyway)? Am I reading the Emperor's New Words, or is the Emperor even wearing any words at all?

So, somehow it is much trickier to feel confident as a reviewer once into this territory of language, and I can only suggest that the prospective reader judges it on their own response to the writing as for any other stories, whether they are story-like or not. I will confess that there are times when I simply want to skate across the surface of the words in this book, at other times I revel in the immersion and following the flow where it takes me. I can marvel at Lovelace's work for its poetry and beauty, but please don't make me analyse it.

Notwithstanding my delight in words themselves, there is also a tremendous thirst in me, as a reader, to "make sense" of prose, to inject "a story" into a piece of writing. Perhaps as a writer this urge is not equivalently strong, which gives me a certain sympathy with alternative viewpoints as to what the business of story should be "about". But it does mean that some of my favourite pieces in this collection are those which retain the beauty and wonder of language and yet deliver a "plot" of sorts, however free and flighty it may be. In Momentum we strike out reading with the statements "We almost ate a fashionable hat! It was glossy and bruised. We thought grape jelly. Grape jelly on the abdomen of a rotted log." It feels initially as though all hope of sensible interpretation is lost and we must simply read along for the ride, but miraculously, like a Magic Eye image, the pixels of this story resolve into a recognisable tale of fungus-hunting trip and an instance of haute couture. For me, this constitutes a truly satisfying and delightful meal as a reader.

One Mythologyis another such favourite of mine. It begins "In the year of Thud, of McEclipse, during the Third Purge of Knees..." This jocular and unsolemn alternative to Once Upon A Time soon turns starkly serious, "...to own a single word of writing – a dot of black on white – was to symbolize, to say I am this, tick tock and venomous and verve, an endangered thing in a forest falling, wonderful and wrecked." This then is the legend of the woman who owned a book. "They say she was laughing. They say they found not a single word. She read them all, pried them from the page with her skillful fingers; folded them into intricate shapes. They say her name was your name, and she lifted the letters into the sky." And with that single moment of elevation Lovelace goes on to gives us an ending to transform a gathering of beautiful words into a myth – a real story if you will.

Perhaps if I stare long enough at some of the other pieces in this collection they will all give up stories into the atmosphere of my eyes. Or they may always remain poetic narratives. If you're into labels then this sort of ambiguity might distress you. If you enjoy your words free and fast and loose, yet beautifully crafted, then Fog Gorgeous Stag may very well enchant you.

Read an excerpt from a story from this collection at Nanofiction



Pauline Masurel is. You can be sure of that.

Pauline's other Short Reviews: Erin Pringle "The Floating Order"

Jim Crace "The Devil's Larder"

Mark Budman, Tom Hazuka (eds) "You Have Time for This"

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities

Carson McCullers "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe"

Jeffrey Eugenides (ed) "My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead"

Kasia Boddy, Ali Smith, Sarah Wood (eds) "Let's Call
the Whole Thing Off"

Ben Tanzer "Repetition Patterns"

Paul Meloy "Islington Crocodiles"

Dan Rhodes "Anthropology"

Frank Burton "A History of Sarcasm"

Various "Ten Journey"

Michael Sims (ed) "Dracula's Guest
"

Margaret Atwood "Good Bones"

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya "There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour's Baby"

Rob Redman (ed) "various authors"

Valerie Trueblood "Marry or Burn"

Salley Vickers "Aphrodite's Hat"
                     
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Sean Lovelace lives in Indiana and teaches creative writing at Ball State University. He is a contributor to HTMLGiant and his first book of flash fiction was titled How Some People Like Their Eggs.

Read an interview with Sean Lovelace