Saturday, December 29, 2007

Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened – Jason Rodriguez (ed)

I first bumped into this while poking around for a birthday present. It had a pretty grumpy looking elephant on the front cover, and who can’t not pick up a book with a grumpy elephant glaring at them? The premise sounded interesting, so I bought it, wrapped it, and sent it away.

Later, the shop had restocked the book, and I still liked the elephant, so I bought it myself. (No, I did not read the birthday present. Shame on you for thinking so!)

(Kinda wanted to know if I’d given someone a lame gift, too.)

(You know, just in case.)

(My honour was at stake.)

(And there was an elephant on the cover.)

It is a collection of shorts by various and sundry, each one based on a single postcard, each postcard found and bought for pittance in an antique store. As the subtitle says, none of these stories ever happened, but pieces of them are true.

It’s a very mixed bag. Some of the stories are weak, or too simple to stand out next to their more textured neighbours, but then they themselves possess beautifully striking art. ‘A Joyous Eastertide’ by Phillip Heaster and ‘Tic-Tac-Bang-Bang’ by Stuart Moore and Michael Gaydos were particularly gorgeous.

Quite a few made me sniffle, as loss is a prevalent theme throughout the collection. Not surprising I suppose; sending mail is an act of reaching out to someone far away. Their company isn’t to be had. Two stories stood out, my favourite two, the best of the lot, dealt with different forms of grief. ‘Homesick’ by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Micah Farritor is based from a postcard written by an American in France, during the Great Depression. It is a sharp, crisp, miserable little story, containing nothing but sparse and precise dialogue between Marjorie, homesick and adrift in a foreign land, and “François” so eager to leave his troubles behind he would change into someone else. The art is gorgeous, and possibly my favourite of the lot.

‘Best Side Out’ by Antony Johnston and Noel Tuazon is-



Hopelessly hopeful? Hopefully hopeless? Stunningly awful? Awfully amazing? Brilliant? Horrible? All those. A little piece of genius. The postcard, the true postcard written by a real person, is the voice of someone tired, so tired, with all the fight gone out of them. The story takes that voice, and makes it rebellion all of its own. Just reading it again, now, had made my throat go tight. (You’re right, Lydia, I don’t understand, but then again, I do.) It only takes one story to make a book worth buying, and for me, this was that story.

It’s an addictive idea. The stories never end. It will always be a mixed bag, and no one will have the same stories call out to them, and that’s why I want to see more. The postcards are real. Maybe forgotten, but real. They meant something to someone, once. We’ll never know what, or who. These stories recognise that once-held importance, in pencil smudged with handling and handwriting with the curls and joints of another era.

I’d like to see more, many more, postcard books.

Verdict: How can you not love the idea? But methinks, with this lot, you’ll have to decide for yourselves.

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