Perhaps my favorite piece of this small, endearing collection came early on, functioning as a gateway to this strange, drifting travelogue of sorts. Called “Custom[s] Form”, it barely spanned two pages, including sentences where I was forced to choose/fluctuate between two possibilities such as in the following: “[Songs] / [Nothing] will be eventually written about me.” That line became something of a unifying thread as I traversed the rest of the collection, the anxiety in that line resonating through the rest of the narrators’ heads. And while I found that moment of spare language brilliant and that story one I will return to and suggest to as many people as will suffer my voice, many of the stories left me wanting more, as if I’d missed my train but nonetheless recognized that it was a rather beautiful train I’d just seen pass.
A Subtle Kind of Vacancy
In “PHIL 328H” a professor is tasked with observing another professor’s class based on that professor’s delinquency. It was at times a perfect portrait of the oddball professor levying strange assignments on a class of students, all of whom excepting one were bewildered to the point of hilarity. Yet for as good as the setup was, the payoff left an awkward space behind. The oddball disappears a bit soon and the characters’ reactions and subsequent fallout rush through a few paragraphs before a strange encounter between the professor and the one student who “understood” the oddball attempts to wrap the package up. It felt forced, incomplete, a cessation when there should have been a coda. Like a vacation whose experiences build to a half-baked climax. Of course you’re glad you went, you just don’t volunteer to brag about what you did when you return to work the next week.
Later, in one of the other longer pieces called “PAPSS”, a group of renegade students begin a protest based on a smoking ban at their university. The premise seemed exactly the sort of thing Bolano might have written a story about and the prose showed glimpses reminiscent of Bolano’s short form. However, unlike Bolano whose payoff sticks in your craw for its brilliance, in “PAPSS” just like in “PHIL 328H”, the payoff fell short. Again, it didn’t leave the kind of vacancy regret does. I just didn’t feel the arrival I hope to feel following an experience in short fiction.
What a Few Sentences Can Do
However, contrasting the banal endings of the two longest stories are more brilliant flashes and snippets similar to the first story I mentioned. “Anonymous” and “Somewhere With a Park” were both phenomenal examples of what just a few sentences can do. They felt like larger journeys than the two aforementioned stories (despite their comparative brevity) and prove Carcache Flores’ talent. I want more of those.
In arriving at the book’s conclusion, a couple has an exchange in “Somewhere With a Park” and their final repartee goes like this:
“I want to keep learning… even after…”
“Please, let’s hum something nice.”
“Like that time?”
Carcache Flores is a writer who I look forward to continuing to read because this work hums. Not always perfectly in tune, but it’s a tune worth humming along to because sometimes, like good writing should, you find yourself infected with a melody, singing along, singing the same song as the characters, or if not singing, at least understanding and giving a nod to another blissful moment of valuable connection.