"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.
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).
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:
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.
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:
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
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