Friday, September 2, 2011

THIRST – Ken Kalfus


“Copyright 1998. All rights reserved. No part part of this paragraph may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, oral, or telepathic, including photocopy, recording, transcription, tracing, hot type, cold type, mimeograph, ditto (in school, the copies, made between classes, would be handed to us while they were still warm and moist, their ink bearing a thick, intoxicating fragrance that would compel us to raise the sheets to our faces and think, so, this is what blue smells like) teletype, telefax, telephone, semaphore, skywriting, whisper, seance, confession……….”


Above is the start of the first tale - whether it’s a short story, preface, essay or  poetry (I could accept it as a poem),  I’m not sure -  but in two & a half pages it begins as though it were a legal document, before becoming a list that soon developes nostalgic yearnings leading it in the direction of Proust's “ À la recherche du temps perdu”, where through descriptions of devices you cannot use to copy the piece with, memories are evoked and, like some temporal shift you are back to a point in time “where thirty adolescents  press inky sheets of paper against their faces as if,” before ending two and a half pages later with

“The memory still resists full description. After such failure, of what use is copyright? This paragraph contains the complete text of the hardcover edition. NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED”

David Foster Wallace described this book, as a book to give someone who is negative about the future of American fiction, going on to say that there are hip, funny writers and there are wise, moving and profound writers. Kalfus is all of these at once, whether  it’s a tale of sexual awakening in Paris (Le Jardin de la Sexualité), or a fictitious series of questions, that has more to do with the Human story, than the given answers (The  Joy and Melancholy Baseball Quiz), or a tale that appears to be a homage to Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” (Invisible Malls) which starts

“Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the indoor shopping malls visited in his travels around the empire, but he listens to the young Venetian with greater attention than he has shown any other messenger or explorer”.

 Marco then goes on to describe a series of shopping malls like Monica, an indoor shopping mall entirely occupied by the past, filled with boutiques with mickey mouse watches & ashtrays from the 1939 New York world’s fair. Then there are malls dealing with desire, here you can see items - golden fleeces, holy grails, elixirs that deliver eternal life etc.- however everything is priced slightly higher than you think it’s worth, so you leave, regret this decision and return with the realisation that the item that took your fancy was worth more than you originally thought, only to discover the price has been raised, this goes on ad infinitum. Invisible malls describes several other malls as well as the ones mentioned above.thirst kk

Thirst also has tales set in a rain soaked third world jungle and a plague ridden Renaissance Venice, whether they are nostalgic tales about  childhood, or adults living parallel lives,  Kalfus manages to amaze with his slightly skewed stories, tales that although, on the surface humorous, still manage to make you aware of the tragedy lurking beneath. These are fantastic stories full of the absurd and more real for it.



Publishers Page

Ken Kalfus(Wiki)

Salon Books Interview


Mel u said...

This sounds like a fascinating collection-sounds like stories about what Frank O'Connor called stories of the submarginalized-I hope I can one day read this work

@parridhlantern said...

this was a brilliant collection of short stories, the first one in particular, still has me wondering, what to all intents and purpose started out as a copyright notice becomes so much more, becomes a treatise on memory, on how stuff is processed, how it becomes obsolete etc... I have a novel of his on my shelf, hoping to read soon, called - A Disorder Peculiar To The Country. said...

Sounds like a nice collection. I could be partial too since one of my short stories is also entitled Thirst. Similar cover too...interesting. :-)Now I will have to investigate and read this just to compare notes. Thanks for sharing.