Book Review: ‘Fat Time and Other Stories,’ by Jeffery Renard Allen

Fattime and other storiesby Jeffrey Leonard Allen

Ralph Ellison takes readers underground and dares them to listen to the lower frequencies to find candid and frightening accounts of the black experience. 70 years since the publication of “Invisible Man”.,” Writers from Toni Morrison and Edward P. Jones to Jesmine Ward and Colson Whitehead have opted for storytelling modes featuring postmodernism, magic realism, and both lyrical and gritty realism. , explores and exalts the everyday and extraordinary lives of black people, past and present.

And then there’s Jeffrey Leonard Allen. His writings seem to reach us from the far side of the moon.

Over the past quarter-century, the Chicago-born poet, novelist, short story writer, and occasional creative writing professor has published two novels and two collections of poetry featuring jazz solo plays. It has developed a series of works that are bizarre and admirable on a scale. Comes with a book of language and short stories. Currently, he is adding new stories to that catalog, his collection “Fat Time and Other Stories”. In Allen’s sculpting, the black experience is never subject to conventional time and space parameters, and his magic realism, instead of being performatively frenzied or deliberately provocative, is decidedly It’s disturbing and disturbing.

The first story of “Fat Time”,” “Testimony (Confirming Belief/Verifying Facts)” begins with people being chased by a lynching mob. The narrator rescues the little son by hiding it in the cow’s anus. The story ends with this same man, now elderly, being reunited with his manure-covered son. His son apparently survived, but is he a ghost? Did he really survive? –that’s not something to be happy about. “What will other people think of his return? Will they be jealous? Are there any sons who have not escaped from the clay in the coffin? Should I hide my son again?” ?” At the end of the story, the son gives his father grim consolation by confirming that he really died, and together the father and the ghost son “continued in silence through the uneasy night.”

An eerie unrest dominates the stories in this collection. Allen sees poverty and violence, and a precarious sense of self, family, and friendship, whether between her mother and daughter, “The Circle” and “Four Girls,” or among young men in Chicago. But I’m drawn to situations that put pressure on already jagged connections. In “Big Ugly Baby” they become capricious and fierce lovers.

The collection also presents confidently eccentric interpretations of historical figures from the worlds of music and sports, not just to humanize the figures behind the iconic profiles. This is too mundane for Allen), instead aiming to make them both newly recognizable and new strange.

In “Pinocchio,” Miles Davis hates his adoring white audience and is harassed by his nephew’s grandchildren wanting to join his band, but finds new hips “in the metal of a newly discovered planet.” I have no problem making it. In “Heads,” Jimi Hendrix, who appears elsewhere in Allen’s novels, spends late nights with painter Francis Bacon as they discuss art-making and life, with Jimi occasionally strumming his guitar. there is In the collection’s title story, Allen sends boxer Jack Johnson to Australia for a high-profile bout, where his celebrity and being black give him an idiosyncratic experience in the racist extremes of local life. will result in Allen also creates Muhammad Ali, who becomes a text friend with her teenage girl from the moon. In “Orbitz,” her family helps Ali prepare for her 1980 fight with Larry Holmes, while Champ helps her with her birthday party dilemma.

From the description alone, you might think this is just a weird and wise comedy, but I think Allen has more in common with Donald Glover than he does George Sanders.Like the final season of Glover’s ‘Atlanta’,” “Fat Time and Other Stories” It doesn’t pretend to entertain, and in fact doesn’t really care what the audience thinks of the bizarre developments it pursues, or that not all of these developments will necessarily work. do not have. These are difficult and original tales, and at their best, with “a ferocious tingling glare,” as Allen puts it, in three words, brilliantly describing the way Jimi Hendrix did music. Occupying different frequencies and otherworldly locations.

Randy Boyagoda is Professor of English at the University of Toronto. His latest book is “Dante’s Indiana”.

Fattime and other stories | Jeffrey Leonard Allen 268 Pages | Gray Wolf Press | Paperback, $16

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button