June 2010

A Wolfe

fiction

Miracle Boy and Other Stories by Pinckney Benedict

I have been waiting for the collection of Pinckney Benedict’s stories for three years now, ever since I’d read my first Benedict piece, “Zog 19: A Scientific Romance.” I read this collection, Miracle Boy and Other Stories, in two days. I have looked at it, reread excerpts, sloppily jotted my marginalia from cover to cover, shoved my cat off of it, dog-eared pages first toward 78 then toward 79, because I couldn’t figure out which page was more important to the general understanding of humanity (probably both are), for at least two months now. I am currently ready to review it. 

My first instinct is to say that this is a collection of mistakes gone terribly right. With absolutely no malice meant toward the publisher of this fine collection, my ARC arrived with the first title page blacked out to read Miracle Boy instead of the original Wonder Boy, what we would say is a minor correction to make in a galley, but this signified more to me. These stories are what I might call accidentally cohesive. Our main characters range in age from the very young, like Miracle Boy who lost his feet in a tragic household farming incident, to the very old -- and space alien -- Zog 19 who must copulate with his very human wife in order to save his species’ blood line thousands of years in the future. Most of these stories tend to be set on farms with people whose names are four syllables long and taken from ancient kings and peasants that may mirror Pinckney’s own familial name, but there seems to be no clear directing themes that overtly link these stories other than the author who’s producing them. But there are more beautiful mistakes to discuss. 

Often in these stories there are animals present, and often these animals substitute for humans who aren’t worthy of their bipedal skins. In “The Beginnings of Sorrow,” a dog turns into a man, and his owner turns into a dog, while the farmer’s wife waits in horror for one of the three to die first. The story, which is thirty pages long, could end quickly, could have a nice and tight little meaning sewn within, but it doesn’t. Instead, the tension is slowly ratcheted up, with the dog-to-man strangling his new wife, then letting her go, only to return to the same tense moment with a twist later on, again and again. He asks her, “Shall we fuck each other, or shall we kill each other?” while he paws her throat and she raises a deadly-heavy skillet above his head, but we don’t end there; we continue. They converse, and invoke the spirit of the dead, and as strange as this seems, it’s the only place where this story can end, in embrace of things past, present, and future. 

This circuitousness is used several times throughout the collection with success. In “Pony Car,” there seems to be no real narrative thread of time-now and time-then, because they’re interwoven as tightly as the narrator’s memories of them. He sits in a room -- presumably on his family’s farm -- staring out at the old pony car in the garage, while an impossibly ancient raven, named Slow Joe Crow, echoes erie sentiments from his past through the darkened halls. He croaks, “Doctor Foster. Went to Gloucester,” and, “Yowza Yowza,” which, though comedic, is actually chilling in that these are mirrored phrases once uttered by the ghost of his uncle, who sits down at the pony car, waiting to speak with our narrator. 

Ghosts are, in fact, glittering the pages of these stories. They come in many forms, but most memorable is the back-to-the-future kind exhibited in “Zog 19.” As I said before, I’d read this story previously, probably could have skipped it because it was so ingrained in my memory, but I didn’t, was actually most excited to finally get to it. Pinckney Benedict’s language is so precise and poetic that when Zog 19 rips his fingers apart in a blade accident and can only howl his native tongue “Toot! Toot!” to exclaim his pain, I don’t blink an eye or giggle. The absurdity of his reactions, the pure honesty that embodies this story and all the others in this collection are a powerful force, and when, at times, I thought the story was over, Pinckney Benedict showed me it had only just begun. 

Over ten years in the making, one could say this collection was overdue, but I would disagree. This collection is timely and timeless with heart and cowardice and tenderness rolled into one very human whole. 

Miracle Boy and Other Stories by Pinckney Benedict
Press 53
ISBN: 1935708015
260 Pages