A Review by New Pop Lit
“First on the agenda today is the topic of mystery.”
This is how award-winning writer Kelly Cherry opens her collection of Fictions, Temporium: Before the Beginning to After the End.
The theme of the book is the mystery of time. Cherry takes on a subject more appropriate for a physicist or philosopher than a literary writer, but it works. She makes real to our imagination a philosopher’s questions and wonders. They’re parables, of a kind.
An early piece, “Eternity Dies,” ponders the loneliness of God, and posits the notion that God created the universe to end his loneliness.
“His thinking that thought was the First Cause. Thus even the First Cause was caused, but it was also uncaused, because it was not caused by anything that existed. It was caused before existence existed, by his thinking of his loneliness.”
This is written with a sense of humor. Kelly Cherry is playing with physics and philosophy, with God, and with us.
In “A Maiden and Her Swain” a young couple lives in the Dark Ages as if there were no time, yet time moves forward and they find they’ve aged. The tale is a reflection on the swiftness of aging– of ourselves and our civilization– but it’s also a dream. It carries the timelessness of a dream.
These are all dreams– the kind of afternoon nap dream one has beyond plot and time; a temporary plunge into eternity. You awake with a sense of melancholy, of existential loneliness. Panic. The realization that our lives are impossibly brief– we’d like to live forever in this world but forever can happen only in our dreams. Or beyond this world of matter and onrushing time. A feeling of monumental sadness. This is the feeling Kelly Cherry captures in these fictions; these stories.
Though Kelly Cherry writes in no way like Ernest Hemingway, the book is structured like his early collection, In Our Time, with short interpolations between the longer pieces.
Dead husband taught wife to shoot.”
Wry inserts like that one.
None of the few-score pieces is longer than a few pages. Nearly all are thought-provoking or amusing. A few stand above the rest.
“Aegea,” about a space ark; “Murray the Short Order Cook”; “He Wasn’t There Again Today”; and “Reunion” are my favorites.
One striking thing about the stories is the more surreal they are, the more real they seem. They’re speculations– amid them is an awful lot of truth and life.
They’re experimental pieces, experimental not just in style, but in ideas and theme. Part essay, part poetry, part story. Or: no review can adequately capture the feeling and meaning conveyed by this book. Plunge into it yourself and read it.
Temporium is available at Press 53.
(Photo of Kelly Cherry.)