“The Great Mandini and the Dead Man’s Hand” by Kevin Wabaunsee (5817 words)
No Spoilers: Taking place in a rather dingy diner, this story features a narrator trying to convince a famous stage magician to share some of his secrets. What that means, though, and what secrets the narrator is hiding as well, make for a piece that has the feeling of quicksand, a dpeth that opens up more and more, drawing the reader down into a darkness full of hurt and the desire for revenge. That the narrator is a native man appealing to the seasoned magician is just an added wrinkle in the performance that both men are giving, and the gamble that they’re making.
Keywords: Magic, Bargains, Tricks, Gambling, Stories, Revenge
Review: I really like how this story twists standard revenge narratives. The narrator, it slowly turns out, has been after Mandini for quite some time. Most of his life. And this is supposed to be the moment of his revenge, of his justice. Only it’s not what he imagined. And I really like the ways that the piece circles on itself, coming always back to gambling, to addiction, to magic. The players here are caught in a pattern, in the gravity of their own desires. The narrator has committed himself to this revenge and has embraced it, become addicted to it and through it to the magic that would help him accomplish it. The story again and again shows characters who should just fold, should quit while they’re only a little behind. But who don’t, knowing in some ways that it’s a mistake but doing it anyway because they are compelled to. Because they believe that maybe this will work out for them. Then it doesn’t. And they have to deal with what comes next, which tends to destroy them. And maybe the narrator knows that, because it’s only him who seems to use that to get at least something that he wants. Which might be a strange thing to say, given that the story leaves him on the verge of total destruction. But that doesn’t mean that his revenge isn’t complete. And in some ways it’s fitting and terrible what he does to Mandini. He doesn’t use violence or coercion, doesn’t really hurt him in any tangible way. But I get the feeling that he’s very much gotten his revenge, because the implication is that Mandini is going to do to himself so much more and worse than the narrator might have dreamed up. And he’s going to do it begging for more, wrecking himself in the same way that the narrator’s father was wrecked. It’s a grim piece but aware at least of the dangers of addiction, and with at least one character aware enough to at least use addiction to carry out his own need for revenge. A great read!
“Those Who Tell The Stories” by Davian Aw
This piece speaks to me of the stories we tell about the places we live. The piece mentions curating memories, crafting an imagine, and for me the piece speaks to a kind of nationalist tendency, a desire to create a mythology of place and country, and typically one that completely erases the fact that the people who have made that country are rarely the only people who have called that place home. That there are almost always the displaced and dispossessed. And poem speaks to that in the ways that those are buried by the legends we make, the stories and the images that we share and pass down, seeking to paint with rosy tones the world not as it is but as we’d like it to be, not as we’ve done but as we’d like to be remembered. The emphasis becomes on everything having a proper place, things being done for Good Reasons, and hey, look at all of our great works, our accomplishments. Only, really, they don’t seem to add up to much. An airport? A crime rate that doesn’t detail the worst situations, that ignores that a lot of crime doesn’t get reported or doesn’t get recorded as what it is. That for vulnerable populations the “crime rate” erases their murders and their assaults, their disenfranchisement and losses. At least, I can’t help but read the poem with a bite of sarcasm. That the narrator is not, indeed, celebrating the nationalism that swept in and excuses abuse and violence, but rather warning people that history is written by the winners, by those who get to decide what gets passed down to the next generation. And that it doesn’t have much to do with the truth, but rather has everything to do with wealth and power, the stories made to insist that those with lots of both get to get more while everyone else...copes. It’s a wonderful read!
“Heaven is Expensive” by Ruben Reyes Jr.
I’m always fascinated by poems that don’t have fixed line breaks, that exist as little bricks of type. For me it’s not that it makes a piece more prose-y, but rather that the form of the piece is actually more mercurial and changing. Which might seem odd to say, as these kinds of poems sometimes look rather dense and static to some. For me, though, they are almost liquid, filling whatever space is made for them. If your browser window or page is large, then the piece spreads out. If the window is small, the piece squishes and thins, the breaks coming at different places. And for me it helps to enhance the message of the poem, where the narrator is speaking of their Mami who has a timeshare in heaven, whose situation is stuck in some ways regardless of how it is stretched or squished. Regardless of where the lines break, this vision of heaven is unyielding, something of a prison. A cage. This vision of heaven is not exactly paradise, and I like how that’s pulled off by marrying it to this rather viciously capitalist model of a timeshare. Of a place that someone only owns a stock in, that they can only use at certain times of the year. While even the benefits of it seem inflated, seem fake. The food is hollow, the buildings are falling into disrepair. And there is no mention of what happens to Mami during the rest of the year, when she’s not at the time share. The situation makes heaven out to be yet another place that is designed for the wealthy, and everyone else aspires and aspires but even if they get there for brief windows they don’t really fit in. It isn’t what they enjoy. But they are still devoted to the idea of it, to the reach for it. They are convinced that it will solve something, that it will be worth having. And it’s a rather tragic piece for me, because Mami is refusing to be saved, is refusing to really see the problems around her. It’s a wrenching and interesting vision of an afterlife, and it’s very much worth spending some time with!