Review: Falling from the Sky
Uncommon concepts from an uncommon press.
Portland, Oregon USA-based Another Sky Press has built for itself in its few years of existence a reputation for publishing work that might be labeled by mainstream presses as "outsider." But more than the work itself the ethos behind the press could easily be described the same way. ASP's artistic motivation isn't guided by oft-detractors like money and fame. ASP "want[s] people to read [their] books, even if they read them for free," going so far as to make all of their publications available electronically for free via their website, or in perfect-bound form for the cost of printing plus an optional direct-to-the-artist contribution. This is all a way of saying that when you read an ASP release know that you are diving into something wholly unique.
Another Sky Press's maiden anthology release (fourth general release), Falling From the Sky demonstrates this belief by unrepentantly presenting a montage of "outsider," edgy, drug induced, waking-up-in-a-flooded-ditch-with-songs-in-your-head-and-needles-in-your-arm stories. These are stories often respectful of their literary heritage, and often unapologetically removed from any sense of heritage at all. These are the poetic and the trite, the structurally postmodern and the structurally traditional. These are stories read to prime nightmares. This line from the opening story, 'Reflected' by John Hines, Jr., describes well what many readers might be thinking at the onset, and the eventually aim of the anthology:
Even things which normally smelled bad took on a new life. The smell from a garbage can isn’t a single smell. It is a symphony of odors, reflecting the transient contents, odors as discarded snapshots of our lives. [pg. 4]
The initially, individually offensive become a communal respite from the traditional.
Many stories distance themselves from the "traditional pool" by playing with metafictional devices, i.e. fiction about fiction. Scott Wayne Indiana's 'A Regular Passage to the New Fiction; A Re-Mix (Barb's Story)' capitalizes on this mode perhaps more blatantly than all others, offering from the second line of the story a description of the protagonist's story in progress. Another notable metafictional offering is Santi Elijah Holley's 'The 838' which seems to borrow directly from Amy Hempel's 'The Harvest' in regards to structure while thematically weaving the philosophy of a Kant-ian, subjective world.
The brilliance of this collection lies not only with the writing itself but, as I mentioned above, the way so many different stories come together so beautifully. Kristina Jung's 'To Waltz' reads with a rhythmic swagger of an aggressive, back alley waltz. Joe Shipley's 'World with a View,' presents a touching portrait of two people intimately and awkwardly bonding over a discussion on religion, and is followed almost immediately by a fairly traditional ghost story. Then, peppered throughout, are stores like the anonymous 'Untitled,' which explores the idea of falling into senseless repetition while ignoring unique and worthwhile voices; a cleverly disguised jab at conventional literary anthologies. Can you smell that "symphony of odors" yet?
Part of being an "outsider" publication means not appealing to a lowest common denominator. Carlton Mellick III offers a story full of gratuity and irrelevance—some love it, some hate it—capable of polarizing just about any audience, but luckily in this case Mellick's piece is followed shortly by a more accessible story of irrelevance, Bradley Sand's 'Outside,' which boasts obvious Steve Aylett influence, who in my opinion carries the title for conceptual and irrelevant brilliance.
Bringing the collection to a beautiful end is Gina Ranalli's 'Sweat,' a story of a couple literally giving of themselves to each other in effort to outlive a devastating drought. They gather and sustain themselves with sweat, blood, and eventually a "fascinating yellow-green pus" which upon view causes the narrator to "consider the possibilities for this new gift [her] body is producing" [p. 293].
This theme of selfless purging accents that of the overall anthology itself in that these stories do not attempt to nurture the reader with regurgitated idealism, but instead aim to destroy this romanticism in favor of sweaty, bloody honesty, even if that means adopting that 'outsider' label. It's with anthologies like Falling From the Sky that have me asking: has postmodernism found direction?
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Falling From the Sky ed. Craig Quackenbush
Another Sky Press