Editor Darin Klein's After Life
The dreamlike cover photo aptly introduces Darin Klein's compilation of memoirs in short prose and poetry. This limited edition 20-page volume is clearly a labor of love, featuring a color desktop-printed front cover of beige cardstock, purple flyleaves, and beige pages. The font is easy to read, though the formatting is too uniform for my tastes. The proofreading is impeccable--this is a very professional production.
I found the consistency and simplicity of the formatting to be an aggravating loss of opportunity to add a visual component to the text pieces. Perhaps Klein's choice not to differentiate the titles with any sort of formatting was influenced by that fact that about half of the pieces were untitled (I assume, since they were printed without titles).
The back cover insert does add an element of excitement. A "facsimile of a correspondence" featuring a typewriter-style font complete with X-ed out corrections and no capitalization, it's folded up and glued inside the back cover. Unwrapping this little extra was fun; however, it's not actually a story or poem, but rather a letter, responding to Klein's request for submission, from Ms. Sarah Cain, who appears to be heavily medicated. Just kidding. Sort of.
I found some of the poetry abstruse, such as Cedar Sigo's untitled piece, which is like ancient Asian poetry, if ancient Asian poetry didn't actually make sense:
wander the top
of the stairwell
Also in my place
Some poems verge on the silly. John Blacklow's untitled piece starts out --
Lofty, lowly, lovely and lewd, I'm reclining in the dusk . . .
-- while Terri Phillips begins her untitled work, a series of slightly surreal memory fragments, with:
She was bow-legged.
So I became bow-legged.
To me, the prose pieces are the heart of this work. Some of the stories are truly outstanding and carry the whole collection on their own merits.
The most moving and memorable piece is "Mulatto," by Matty Lee: a tale in first person about a new kid - "that weird hillbilly kid" - whose eventual encounter with the school bully, Paco Salmeron - the mulatto - turns out unexpectedly. So unexpectedly that it reads like a fantasy, something I wish to be true. No spoiler--you have to read it yourself, so you can be haunted like me.
Shahan Sanossian's well-told story, "The Tarzana House," manages to make the suburbs sound magical and exciting, when viewed through the eyes of immigrant children escaping war-torn Beirut.
"My brother and I, through the power of our imaginations, made the pool into whatever we wanted. It was Olympic sized when we held races. It was an ocean when we played Marco Polo. . . . Sometimes we were pirates, and I was forced to walk the plank (diving board) to my unfortunate, deep-sea death. Sometimes we were Tarzans, jumping into the water from vines (branches). And sometimes we were explorers, bravely trekking up the hillside into the (fenced-in) wilderness, finding the evidence of vicious lions (coyote crap) or the artifacts of ancient civilizations (faded Tab cans)."
Sonia Ahlers tickled me with her untitled story that references the 80's in ways that only someone who has actually lived through the 80's would recognize: "pastel shaker knits, neon socks, Sun-In hair." What a delight! So there, all you retro-loving youngsters.
As a whole, this collection is a fine effort that reaps rewards for the thorough reader. The tone of reminiscence is maintained throughout, though perhaps at some sacrifice of writing quality. I would like to see Darin Klein put out future collections, hopefully with more daring formatting choices.
(After Life. Copyright 2005, compiled and produced by Darin Klein, Available at Skylight Books (323) 660-1175,. $ 6.00)