Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“Thousands of feet in the air with nothing else in sight, we only had ourselves to blame,” think the collective narrators of the title story, in transit, in limbo. They find themselves in a no-space, disoriented, ignorant of their place in the world and their place in any ordering of things. They are cut loose from meaning, and thus they have something in common with the other characters in Kevin Clouther’s story collection, which suggests that the state of being in-between can be a state of grace, maybe, and that, in any case, it’s where we find ourselves most often if we are honest when we check the windows.
The locales here are vague, clockless, unfettered. We have people in holding patterns, people whose planes have been diverted, people who, like the narrators here, are trying “to guess where we were,” but who know in their guts that they are not where they are supposed to be, no place intended or even desired. In the tales here, men sit at desks that are not theirs, waiting for the phone to ring. Women stare out the windows of buses, surrounded by strangers. Men sit in anonymous hotel rooms, “plain and unadorned,” trying not to think about their circumstances. A couple stands atop a water tower, the sky unreadable with clouds.
Such situations bring with them a sense of surprise, however numbed at the edges. The communal narrators, remembering another liminal place, an underground room where they had been taken to shelter out a tornado, reflect, “We hadn’t realized the space existed,” but also that since “There were no windows . . . nobody took the danger seriously.”
Danger here is real—a tumor, a mugging, air travel, the sandwich delivery man fingering all your secrets—but it has the dulled edges of dream, as those who are or are in danger of becoming its victims are generally sleepwalking, even at 39,000 feet. Life, for the players here, is like archery was for the communal narrators of the title story: “our successes were random,” they say; “Aiming had little effect....”
“From the scratched plastic window, we saw miles of clouds. Anything could have been below us. We could have been anywhere.” What’s the point of expectations in such a world? What’s the point of maps, or practice, or even identity? These are the questions the characters of this book wrestle, as siblings and spouses, self-declared prophets, youth coming to a slow recognition of their own fleeting youth, people coming to the realization that “the subtle movements of the universe are not beautiful . . . but awkward,” and that where we are isn’t necessarily anywhere, just the in-between in which our lives get lived out, passing faster than we could imagine, while we’re waiting for something else.
Official Black Balloon Publishing Web Site