Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Wonder Years: A Review of 926 Years by Kyle Coma-Thompson and Tristan Foster

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 A few weeks ago I received a circular in the mail for a real estate company. The business had been around for a few decades but it boasted having hundreds of years of experience by simply tallying the work years of its individual employees. I straight away recognized the mathematical fallacy. This kind of creative accretion operates in the new book 926 Years by Kyle Coma-Thompson and Tristan Foster, and published by Sublunary Editions.

The book comprises twenty-two short(er) stories. Each features a person, a character, whose age ranges from 8 to 81. (There are two who are 54. The characters have an average age of 42 and a median age of 35.5. ) Adding their ages together, you arrive at the misleading sum of 926.

Tempering this total "age" of the book's title is a quote from Victor Klemperer's war diary, translated by Martin Chalmers, that serves as the book's epigraph: "It is said children still have a sense of wonder, later one becomes blunted. —Nonsense. A child takes things for granted, and most people get no further; only an old person, who thinks, is aware of the wondrous."

You promptly begin to wonder, if you are a thinking person of a certain age, whether such pure accumulation, per Klemperer's claim, grants one the wondrousness of old age. As if to let slip the fact that the authors are on to you and your sly ways, the first story begins, "The child is dying." It's a grievous tale about the convenient lies parents tell themselves and their children about a god's mercy. And then the next: an even older man, this one "great," who seems to know the magic trick of dying well. But in the meantime….

And another and another. The stories amass. They are compiled. But like real estate experience, it's sheer arithmetic and accumulation. And childlike wonder, no matter one's age, still gets taken for granted, stunted—blunted, no matter the number of years you manage to put behind you. It's up to you to figure out what it all adds up to.

Tristan Foster's Letter to the Author of the Letter to the Father (Transmission Press) was easily one of my favorite books last year, so I was excited about this collection. I spent an excessive amount of time trying to determine which of the authors penned each story, making assumptions about what each writer might be familiar with regarding the cities and geography mentioned throughout. There are worse ways to read a collection of short stories. But, alas, some numerology cannot be unraveled. And regarding cities and geography, the book could easily have been, instead of accumulated years, stockpiled miles.

This collection is a field of stars with no predetermined constellations mapped out. It shimmers in the void and pulls you in with its spectacular gravity.

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