NY Sin Phoney IN FACE FLAT MINOR. Bart Plantenga, Sensitive Skin Books, 2017. This collection of 365 flash fictions seems like an up-to-date anabasis through Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio (never Paradiso). But not always.
First, there is no Virgil to take the narrator through the infernos of dark alleyways, underpasses, bridges, side streets, and ale houses of NYC. And secondly, sometimes the stories are purgatorios of combustive outdoor mattresses, gun dealerships, and a “slow-chewing restaurant.” But the narrator fares well enough on his own, thank you. Meet the pretty vain girl in “145. That Dangerous Gaze,” so obsessed with her window reflection that she bumps into a “NO PARKING” sign…and the narrator himself. There’s satiric social commentary in “149. Blood vs. Words” about a mother trying to please her daughter who not only wants a book with “lots of words,” but one with “blood too, scary blood.” So she gives her a bible.
The observations are stellar. Someone tells the narrator her sad sexual history, and he observes wryly: “I grew quiet as I hold this knowledge close to me like a boy might his first pet rabbit or his first shoplifting booty.” (A lesser writer would have stopped at the first metaphor.) Purgatorio intrudes when he’s poised with his friend at a street corner and asks, Samuel Beckett-style, “Now which way?” “It doesn’t matter. There’s nothin’ in every direction.”
The fictions don’t always end with zingers like some readers expect from short shorts, but then they are not exactly jokes. More often, they’re deftly expressed observations about the city busily deteriorating. But sometimes a story ends with an ironic kicker. In “153. The Garbage Wars” a local bodega owner harasses his neighbor for an unstated reason, dumping garbage and dead rats near the man’s house. The man complains, to no avail. The last sentence: “He would like to do some art about how everyday life gets in the way of making art but –hehehe–he never gets to it.” Borgesian circular logic?
I lied when I said there was no Paradiso. “98. Supermarket Sign Haiku” finds a shard of wonder in a random juxtaposition of words. Read one of these a day. They’ll lift you up and down you out. And it’ll take you exactly one year.