Green Mountains Review asked me to review an anthology edited by Belinda McKeon with contributors including Kevin Barry, Porochista Khakpour and Sam Lipsyte writing on distance. I found that, in thinking about distance, I was newly attuned to effects proximity:
Juxtaposition performs a sleight of hand. Presented with a collection of stories I might find the arrangement conducive to comparing them or I might not, but the possibility of not seeing the stories in some relation to one another has been precluded. The seventeen writers (ten women, seven men) anthologized by Belinda McKeon in A Kind of Compass hail from Ireland, Iceland, Iran, Italy, Japan, Nigeria, the Philippines, the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. They write of island villages, great cities, unspecified countries, possible futures, deep space. Some of their characters undertake distance. Others are overtaken, overcome, bound by distance. The short story is “made out of distance,” McKeon writes in the introduction, “out of the problem” of catching the essence of a life in a few pages. A problem not unique to the short story, but for the project of this book, the short story—a juxtaposition of short stories—perhaps uniquely offers opportunities to simultaneously explore its subject and elide its subject’s constraints
In Porochista Khakpour’s “City Inside,” “[f]or the first time in his life, Henry was living in a famous city” where even his apartment building has “a well-known history.” In Ross Raisin’s “Holy Island,” Elfrida sees “the thickening membrane of water over the flats” as the tide runs, and knows “that the island will soon be cut off, freed.” Characters here move in awareness of where of they are not, of known space’s boundaries. Reading, I moved similarly, alongside characters, partly in mind of others. The proximity of narratives converged divergences.
Photo: Sarah Malone