(New York: C&R Press, 2019)
Two Californias by Robert Glick is this accomplished writer’s first collection. It gives me some real hope and happiness that Gen X may be finally ready for our winning moments. This book is certainly one.
For many years I taught freshman composition from a literature anthology that had a quote by Raymond Carver fronting a chapter called “Style, Tone, and Irony.” Carver says, “I like it when there is some feeling of threat or sense of menace in short stories. I think a little menace is fine to have in a story.” I could not help but think of this line while the tension was building in Two Californias’ first story, “In the Room/ Memory is/ White,” as we follow a warring couple through their difficult separation, while their ten-year-old son tries to measure his place in the breaking family.
“When Jacob’s father left for work in the morning, he took a mahogany leather briefcase. On days when he played racquetball, he took a red satchel with white straps. But now, when his mother said Out! and his father left, all he took was a box of Frosted Flakes. Leaving Jacob with Raisin Bran.”
I felt a sense of tremendous relief that the menace does not manifest into gratuitous violence, hipster irony, or any expected outcome. I relished plunging forward into the next narrative and enjoyed the imagery of my generation’s bygone and memorable times and the gentle prodding heartache of living through those times.
Tragedy, absurdity, and empathy are parsed in equal doses. Each story title in the Table of Contents offers a California location. In the flow of the text that follows, the geographic context is not essential. The two Californias are the two halves of the warring couple, the two young men in a high school love triangle, a living twin and a dead twin, and the generational polarity when the prodigal son returns for his grandmother’s funeral.
The writer takes forceful command of language: one gets the feeling every comma, adjective, and paragraph break has been deliberated for decades. But he gets some pleasure from leaving the plots and interpretations open-ended. In a recent interview, Glick states, “I hope that the stories don’t land too neatly—I’m one who wants a bit of visible messiness.”
The messiest mash-up is “Mermaid Anatomy” where a rudderless man meets a stranger named Lena in a youth hostel. “Let Lena be the map I told myself. As if from a riptide I pulled back the smoky ankles of my fear.” So begins a wild ride of bi-lingual philosophic and theory-laden language-play and uncertain conclusions.
Robert Glick is perhaps a late-blooming prodigy: a Gen X Thomas Pynchon or low key cousin of David Foster Wallace. His current work in progress is a hybrid print/digital novel called The Paradox of Wonder Woman’s Airplane. One can only imagine what depth of thoughtfully tricked out language vehicles he will roll out for this book, set during the 2016 election cycle.
For now, I will relish these images of familiar past times in Two Californias. Isn’t it time Gen X got their legitimate literary moment? How about a novella in bite size chapters (“Failure Mechanism (Voicebox)”) with a Mazzy Star song, Snack Pack pudding and a doorman with a Maori tattoo? Glick got it all very right.
The C&R in C&R Press stands for Conscious and Responsible. Their motto is “Long Live Books.” Their webpage is bright and white, allowing the book covers’ colorful designs to pop. “Good fiction, nonfiction, and poetry grow our knowledge and imagination, take us into new lives, and illuminate truths we never knew…”
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Karin Falcone Krieger is a freelance writer, poet, teacher, and advocate in Oyster Bay, New York. She holds an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, and a BA in Social Sciences from SUNY Stony Brook. After 20 years of teaching freshman composition as an adjunct instructor at area colleges, she is on a self-imposed and self-funded sabbatical.