Sunday, May 31, 2009

Short Story Month--Roy Kesey

When I think of Roy Kesey's imagination I see an old battered leather suitcase, nearly covered with overlapping oval decals that advertise whatever city or country has been visited--look, there's Big Ben, there's the Eiffel Tower, there's Victoria Falls. The image of this suitcase may capture the way Roy's mind works, I think, but also how your own mind will look after reading a raft of his stories. The fellow seems to effortlessly travel everywhere and into anyone he chooses, ignoring whatever literary checkpoint or border crossing he may come upon.

Though I'd seen Roy Kesey's name here and there in the table of contents of various literary magazines, the first story of his I read, "Fontanel," was one he sent to Ninth Letter, which came in an envelope postmarked with some very cool stamps from China. Within a couple pages I knew he wasn't going to disappoint me, that his high-wire act was going to continue successfully right to the last word. Because Roy's cover letter stated that this was a multiple submission, when I finished reading I immediately called Jodee Stanley, who'd already read the story, and I proposed we accept it right away. Normally, our acceptances come after a long process of reading, counter-reading and discussion among many folks working on the fiction side, but this was one fish I didn't want to slip away. Jodee and I agreed that we couldn't imagine that anyone would object. We were right, and "Fontanel" appeared in our second issue (Fall/Winter 2004).

The story is a brilliant set of verbal photographic collages following the course of events as a young Chilean couple make their way to ClĂ­nica las Condes, "the finest hospital in Santiago," preparing for the eventual birth of their second child. The reader quickly wonders, however, Who is taking these photos that the narrative voice describes? The various shots are too disparate for any one person to accomplish, and then these photos take on a kind of three-dimensionality, one that balloons inward, not outward. We learn the nurse loves the obstetrician, who, it turns out, only loves himself, that the pediatrician loves everyone in sight whenever he attends a birth, we learn secrets of private behavior that are temporarily being held in check. And on we move closer to the birth of the couple's son, the moment's arrival described as the point when "things end and begin." And so the story wraps up, giving flashes of everyone we've seen before, including the grandmother at home comforting the couple's first child, the cabbie who drove them to the hospital, the maternity staff and their sexual secrets, and the accidental nick of a vein and some pooling blood that points to another story after this story ends, this story that, in ending, also begins.

We went on to publish another marvelous story by Roy Kesey, "Nipparpoq," in our sixth issue (Fall/Winter 2006-2007), which recounts the troubles of an Inuit hunter disastrously down on his luck--another sterling example of his border crossing expertise. Since I'm on the subject, though this is a post for Short Story Month, I can't help recommending Roy's novella, Nothing in the World, in which he effortlessly inhabits the life of a young Croat conscript fighting in the Balkan Wars. How does he do this?

"Fontanel" appears in Roy's first short story collection, aptly titled All Over, and this collection also includes the story "Wait," chosen by Stephen King for inclusion in the Best American Short Stories 2007. "Wait" initially plops us into a situation we're familiar with--a flight is delayed, the weather outside the international airport's windows is not promising, connections in other cities vanish in the air. However, days pass, and the flight's hopeful passengers lose hope and yet linger at the gate, watching the fog outside grow, darken, then clear--but never long enough to get a plane off the ground. Antsy factions develop along lines of nationality, age, gender, race, nervous angry energy that briefly gets transformed into a hastily organized fashion show, then a mini-Olympics, and as this long wait extends for weeks we come to know a Bulgarian poet struggling with the crossword puzzle: a Mongolian boy, expert at checkers; a Canadian accountant; and a Ghanaian beauty on the lam from a jealous warlord. All hell eventually breaks loose, as well as an unlikely escape from the world of this story--so much like the mess of the world we know--lifting off in a graceful goodbye, defying borders, like so much of Roy Kesey's work.

1 comment:

Dan Wickett said...

I may be a little biased, but you nailed this one!