Orphans Burning Orphans by Gene Kwak
Greying Ghost Press, 2015
I haven't done the Greying Ghost subscription for a few years, but they've always been one of my favorite small presses, so I was excited to get one this year. First up is Gene Kwak's Orphans Burning Orphans, a chap of six short stories. Staple-bound with black end-papers and a yellow cardstock cover that's stamped with black and red lightning/gun/fire imagery, the prose inside is quick and sharp to match.
The characters in Kwak's stories often come across as people trying to do good in the less-than-perfect situations they're put in. In "Neon God From The Top Turnbuckle" contemplates his own existence and whether he could continue the thread of himself through reproduction. "Red Skin, White Skin, Blue Skin," is a darkly funny story of a man attempting to go along with a lover's fetishes. Both of these pieces feature men struggling to find their place with women who don't always want what they want, making what they think are good decisions that ultimately mislead.
"The Death of Superman" and "Bad Done To His Good Hand" explore friendship and abuse through adolescent perspectives. The innocence lost in each - the severing of an inseparable childhood bond, the revenge taken by a child against an abusive family member - invokes a despair and hopelessness that isn't easy to clear away, no matter what the ending of "Bad Done To His Good Hand" suggests.
The story that feels like the black sheep of Orphans is "Warnings," though it's probably the most powerful piece in the collection. Propelling the story is a tragedy that befalls a man's child at a playground (one that I happen to have a somewhat irrational fear of, which may explain why I was most drawn to this piece), and while it's short and ends quietly, the ramifications of what's happened are huge.
Kwak's direct but poetic prose keeps all his stories on their tight tracks. Where other sparse prose is tired and distancing, the writing in Orphans is engaging, not wasting any sentence on trendiness or wit for the sake of it. Describing an encounter with a lover, the reader is asked to, "...imagine you only knew normal air and someone introduced you to a fog machine." It's satisfying to read fiction in which each line of prose is delicious and necessary, and each piece in Orphans Burning Orphans lives up to that.
Buy Orphans Burning Orphans here.
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