100 Words or Less : A Story-by-Story Review of Christian TeBordo's The Awful Possibilities
Christian TeBordo has published three novels. The Awful Possibilities (Featherproof, 2010) is his first collection of short fiction. Given Tebordo's literary brevity in this book, I thought I would match it: 100 words of review for each story, eight stories total, 800 words or less. And off we go,
Immediately TeBordo uses two things I detest: the exclamation point and the second-person. Yet, 'SS Attacks!' managed to buy my investment through its unexpected directions -- racism and genocidal performance art take over the narrative, pulling the reader under waves of odd rhetoric. And masked in chronological toying, TeBordo works to disrupt my sensibilities and lay a path where we are neither concretely or surrealistically founded -- he treads a line, and does so in great fashion, by giving me an opening story that is at once absurd and unearthly while still somehow grounded and literal. This first story is a setup.
'Three Denials' is a husband and wife, neighbors, and a character named Sweet Wee-yum. And while all three are in fact denials, in denial, play a role in denying someone something, TeBordo is simultaneously denying me, the reader, something. He has cut and parsed this story, let it swing back and within itself, until I am headed to the beginning when I thought I was ending, until there are no handholds left. At its close, TeBordo's reader-denial is more apparent than the actual storied denial. He has set me up and now he has denied me. Smart, this man, TeBordo.
The Champion of Forgetting
When something awful happens to us, we struggle to forget. TeBordo's focus character in 'The Champion of Forgetting' faces the awful but has already forgotten nearly everything as it happens, the information slipping super-fast. And the gross horror-plot that is this story, its forgetting is a mirror of the language, where sentences run into one another, repeat in loops, and swing from finish to start and back in perfectly timed exhaustion and expansion. We become the forgetting, until we are as unsure as the story, as tired as these eyes, as heavy as the hands that did such horrific things.
Wake up body!
Inside a human shell inside a car inside a world that is a planetarium. Inside a human shell that was inside a car that is now outside a car and in the snow and looking beyond its bank to a house that may not exist. This is how it feels to be inside 'Wake up Body!', where TeBordo builds the narrative on blocks of what-ifs, making a guesswork of the growing scenario and implicating the potential non-existence of all that is written. Again we are somehow shed from the story itself, though this time, we accompany the narrator in escape.
Took and Lost
A man has lost something, but TeBordo is not going to tell us what that something is. He is going to hang us outside of concrete object-identification while holding our heads down in the heart of the story. So 'Took and Lost' is brilliantly like the previous texts, carrying us through a narrative while keeping us at bay. And these are complex master touches to be sure, identifiers of a tremendous sentence-crafter, including in this piece the gem of a sentence that provides the book's distressed title: "He opened the door to The Awful Possibilities of a life with meaning."
Oh, Little So-and-So
TeBordo writes stories where people do not connect, cannot communication, reach out hands but never touch. In 'Oh, Little So-and-So' this disconnect is explored through divided discourse: a girl talks to but cannot get through to a man who also talks to and cannot get through to a girl. And there is a grave and a gravedigger and a car too, though none of these elements ever fully appreciates its connection with the others. TeBordo takes care to bring us into and through this story, letting us see how, more often than not, we simply cannot connect with one another.
This story is akin to a long road trip where near the end, every turn and rise appear to be the last, as if the destination is moments away, until you realize that there are always more turns and hills ahead. It seems like 'Moldering' can't go any farther, cannot take another turn, but then it does, and it does so with control and dexterity -- so much prowess that when the flesh is being cut off and the new wallet formed from human skin, you don't even have a chance to look back and wonder, how did we get here?
I can only hope that he still believes in redemption.
Take a penny and turn it into a dollar. Take a boy and turn him into an old man. Take a story about redemption and turn it into a story about deceit. TeBordo changes elements, a narrative alchemy, and we are along for both the ride and the monumental rewards. 'I can only hope that he still believes in redemption.' is subtle in its changes but a changeling nonetheless, and another shining example of flipping the narrative over on itself, letting it squirm on its back, then righting it just in time for an attempted journey across the superhighway rush.
Rules and Regulations
And why not, in a collection such as this, end with a piece that gives three varying perspectives on the same conflated situation, with little to trust in their seemingly clear rules and regulations? As a capstone, there is no better signing-off -- it is TeBordo begging us to see all the facets of the world that are cracked open, even the ones we abhor or want to pretend away, even the ones we wish didn't exist. And so he closes this book as he should: "No more brothers, no more dads, o more rocks, no more thoughts, no more words."
In The Awful Possibilities Christian TeBordo has set us up, denied us understanding, forced us to remember and then forget -- we are pushed out of these stories, we are kept at bay, we are thrust into their own miscommunications, we are turned back and on our backs, we are shipped away in fragments. This is a book that you need to read with your own eyes.
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