Alternately bizarre, poignant, and unsettlingly funny, William Walsh’s Ampersand, Mass.—the titular town situated somewhere between Winesburg, Ohio and Yoknapatawpha County—brings Donald Barthelme’s darkly comedic compressions to mind. These fragmentary, non sequitur-filled stories, peopled by ne’er-do-wells, nincompoops, and priapic not-quite-post-adolescents, circumvent expectations, the seemingly desultory images and events actually carefully sutured together to evoke the sadness, anomie, rebellion, boredom, apathy, and, yes, even heart and kindness that you might find within a small-town in these altered and dissociated states of America. Marked by concision and precision, a commanding use of narrative ellipsis, and humor and utter strangeness, these stories, moving between strange and funny and sad, sometimes in the same story, sometimes in the same paragraph, might just cut you up, in both senses of the phrase.
Amber Sparks already wrote a fantastic and comprehensive review of Joseph Riippi’s The Orange Suitcase for Big Other, which you can read here, but I want to dedicate a post to “Something About Maxine,” which is a short chapter in three tiny parts, and “Something About the Rest,” another short chapter in three parts. I read The Orange Suitcase last night, but when I woke I realized that these two chapters were still with me, and I wanted to write a post to attempt to answer why.
“Something About Maxine”
Here’s the opening:
They didn’t look like baby rabbits. More like pink balls of unbaked dough with caper eyes. [. . . ] My grandfather gathered up the five or six of them. Max, their shaky mother, wrinkled her nose again and again and again and again in the corner of the cage. There’ll be rabbits everywhere, he grumbled.
I didn’t notice the “again and again and again and again” when I first read this; I must have skimmed right over all four “agains,” but when I typed it here I realized how many there are. I think this is important. As I typed, I wondered, “Why so many agains?” And as I type this now, I think, “Well, sure, they help to show the narrator’s focus, show how long the narrator stares at Max.”