Journal Falls A Bit Short of Satisfying
Review of Your Impossible Voice, Fall 2018 by Petur HK
Most of your meals in life are unremarkable. Assuming you live to be 80 years old, you’ll have had thousands of meals. Maybe even somewhere around 100.000. And the vast majority of those you’ll have forgotten about the next day. If you take a few seconds right now, how many can you actually remember? And which stand out more—the best ones or the worst ones?
Your Impossible Voice has put me in a similar spot. Overall, it’s far from bad, but at the same time, not much comes to mind when I try to think of the pieces in this issue. There is a general over-arching theme of feeling out of place, of trying to find a, as Joanna Ruocco puts it in her excerpt from The Runner, “better solution to the problem of existence.” And this theme is strong throughout, for better and for worse. The majority of narrators and characters feel far away, from each other as well as from the reader, telling their stories at a distance. This emphasizes the notion of feeling out of place and away from home, which is admirable, but at the same it also means that the fiction is for the most part drawn out and overly contemplative.
An example is the excerpt from Ricardo Piglia’s The Diaries of Emilio Renzi, Volume 2: The Happy Years, translated from the Spanish by Robert Croll. “Take the almanac, a senseless prison on experience that imposes a chronological order onto a period of time that flows without criteria. Calendars imprison the days, and this mania with classification has likely influenced human morals, Renzi smilingly told the bartender. I say so for my own part, he said, since I’m writing a diary, and diaries obey only the progression of days, months, and years. Nothing else can define a diary—not its autobiographical material, not the private confessions, not even the record of a person’s life.” While it is interesting, and the writing, though lavish, is quite strong, this is merely the beginning of a massive block of text vaguely discussing the outlines of a diary without much semblance of a grounded story.
Again, the sense of being out of place is strong, and it is so strong as to push the reader away. To those brave few souls who make it past the first couple of stories (most of them translations), it quickly becomes clear that these characters and narrators are looking for a home, for somewhere to belong. And this is only amplified by the impressive number of translated works. Ultimately, though, the positives fail to outweigh the negatives, and as a result, the reader is cast out. The pieces presented intrigue but bore, and the general layout (a bunch of stories followed by a bunch of poems, all preceded by a painting cut in half of vague people possibly having vague sex) doesn’t do it any favors. You will have to skip stuff if you want to check out the poetry, which then sadly also leaves a somewhat forgettable taste in your mouth.
Worse, though, is when Impossible outright befuddles. While the sheer number of translated work is great, the proclivity, at least in this issue, for not translating a slew of unclear Spanish phrasings (e.g. los vecinos metiches; lavandero; con su puta querida) and even whole sentences (el jodido-de-la-mierda, que queme en el lago ardiente del infierno), is at best frustrating, at worst incomprehensible. A taste of native language lends personality and fragrance to a piece and an issue; too much only leads to obliviousness and for the reader, this one, at least, to steal away to Google too often, sometimes for things unGoogleable.
A few examples stand out as the opposite, however. One is the earth in ‘Effigy’ by Roberto Rodriguez-Estrada, where an otherwise overly garrulous narrator far too fond of similes (albeit generally great ones) recalls a rare happy scene like so: “She liked how the earth sucked and savored her feet, how her boots squelched and popped out the mud. Petrichor saturated the forest air, thick enough she could smell the riverbank from miles away, clay nourished with all the minerals the rain was giving it. The summer ablution granting its own form of miracle.”
But by far the best piece is at once one of the shortest and one where the narrator isn’t afraid to bring the reader in close. “All of Me” by Dia Felix is a wonder, and it still manages to maintain the sense of removal from the world and a wish to return. The narrator and main character, Beth, though that is not her real name, at one point snaps her fingers at a stranger in McDonald’s. Or, rather: “I’m snapping WITH YOU, not just snapping. You almost want to look at his eyes but you don’t, you keep your head down in a gesture of respect. And this was the holiest thing ever of all time.” Depression is “kept at bay, like self-defense” and the world is foreign: “[I]t’s like, Hyperion, Silver Lake, Sunset, Beverly, Wilshire, La Brea … I mean I don’t like, know those streets, but just the names of them make my knees shimmer like mercury”. Even the body, the narrator’s head, is a pumpkin, and the body is for sale on Craigslist. “For sale: Pumpking head, spelled correctly,” while the rest is just “[s]ome good teeth and some chemicals who are just visiting.”
The language is lively, the narrator is a burst of sad, forlorn energy, the telling throbs with vibrancy, and I just can’t help wishing the rest of the issue was more like ‘All of Me’. It lives up to and augments the overall theme of feeling lost and wanting to come home without shoving the reader away and/or boring us to tears.
In the end, as Beth is washing her liver in the East River, she watches a “very dedicated skateboarder” and worries about him, “because he’s trying to do this trick where he leaps up on the handrail and shoots down and he keeps failing hard on the landing.” Soon, she’s warned by “an angry Irishman” that she’s not allowed in the river, and so she leaves, but not before she sees the skateboarder “getting reprimanded by a uniformed security guard. The guard shakes his finger at the skater. The skater attempts one last trick, but the guard stops him, physically. My god, a fight. But no, it’s more like an embrace, they are both laughing and the skater walks away with a little salute.”
This little scene encapsulates everything Beth, and the rest of the characters in this issue of Your Impossible Voice, crave. Sometimes a hug is as good as a place to come home to, and the difference between Beth and the skater, at least in this instance, is that the skater, the very dedicated skater, has the perseverance to stay in his own skin. Meanwhile, Beth is literally selling different parts of her body and seeks to become someone else, wishing she could wash herself away, wishing her name was Beth. “Bath, that’s a nice word. Beth is a nice name. I would be a different person if that were my name.” As a result, she feels out of place. “I see people I know but of course no one recognizes me. My blood mixed with wine is a smooth blend. I feel a bit less inflamed.”
The same goes for Your Impossible Voice. Overall, it is quite a bland meal. But it has some magic spice, and tomorrow I will not have forgotten it. Nor the day after that.