Sharon Mesmer, In Ordinary Time, Hanging Loose Press

These short story/micro fictions/prose poems expertly balance absurdity, comedy, pluck and pathos in shifting proportions. Here’s a section from the opening piece, The Mexican Shirley Temple

"She tried and failed at grabbing her ankles to assume "rock and roll" pose -- she was just too old now -- and slipped slightly out of the harness. A gasp rose from the audience. Laughing, she just sat up in the harness and swung back and forth. The other mistake she made was wearing a dress -- everyone could see right up it. But it didn't matter, everyone loved her, and then more than ever because of her failure, which amplified her innocence. She was never, of course, innocent. She was pure evil. But to her audience she was the Mexican Shirley Temple."

Any readers who are afraid of enjoying themselves are going to want to keep a safe distance from this writing: the fun and style meters are off the chart, which may hide the fact that part of what we are getting is nuanced portraiture -- in this case portrait of the artist as an old circus performer, done as a kind of dream fable.

If you've ever seen Mesmer live you know that in performance she is, far and away, the greatest slam poet ever, period, while also transcending that genre, since these prose poems work just as well on the page.

Mesmer commits herself to a setting -- circus/black magic convention/ French town etc./ and then puts the details in motion with a unique kind of sympathetic satirical aplomb.

The fact that this book is not yet being breathlessly discussed in major magazines as the real chick lit is just wrong ... though I guess if some of my favorite underexposed musicians -- say, P.J Harvey and Joanna Newsome -- were suddenly played 24/7 on pop radio it would piss me off, so I should consider this situation as a kind of blessing... for me anyway.

Some are carefully wrought, engaging fantasies, like a post-Catholicism Italo Calvino, but with zaniness in the place of pretension.

Mixed in with these poetic micro-fictions are longer stories, adept straight-forward reportage of Ghost-World-esque adolescent rights of passage set in Chicago. These feature a certain sympathy with past selves that produces some of the more poignant moments in the book.

No comments: