23 June 2014

Elegy on Kinderklavier

Summary from Goodreads:
The stories in Elegy on Kinderklavier explore the profound loss and intricate effects of war on lives that have been suddenly misaligned. A diplomat navigates a hostile political climate and an arranged marriage in an Israeli settlement on a newly discovered planet; a small town in Kansas shuns the army recruiter who signed up its boys as troops are deployed to Iraq, falling in helicopters and on grenades; a family dissolves around mental illness and a child's body overtaken by cancer. The moment a soldier steps on an explosive device is painfully reproduced, nanosecond by nanosecond. Arna Bontemps Hemenway's stories feel pulled out of time and place, and the suffering of his characters seem at once otherworldly and stunningly familiar. Elegy on Kinderklavier is a disquieting exploration of what it is to lose and be lost.

During the Twitter flurry that is BEA-when-you're-too-broke-to-actually-go-to-New-York a stray title in an RT caught my eye: Elegy on Kinderklavier.  Huh.  So I trotted over to opened a new tab in my browser for Edelweiss and looked up the title.  Interesting thing 1) it's a short fiction collection from a small press, Sarabande Books.  Interesting thing 2) the author is both an Iowa Writers' Workshop grad and is apparently currently teaching here, so he's sort of a local.  I'll bite - and I requested the DRC from the publisher.

These are not happy stories nor are they very short. They are not absurd or funny.  These are stories about people down in the shit.  They are soldiers with PTSD, a trio of Kurdish friends injured in a stray bombing, an African man with a repressed love for the white, dying son of an American businessman, a group of schoolchildren with repressed rage for the local Army recruiter, Jewish settlers in an un-Earthly settlement, and a father watching his child die.  Each story is a lamentation for not just those who have died but for those who can't escape the memory of their dead and dying.

There are two stand-out stories in this collection.  The third story, "The IED", is a stream-of-conscious look at man's last moments as he realizes that he has stepped on an IED and cannot stop the motion of his foot and leg.  Thoughts flash through his mind.
The hinge of the cuneiform bone (beautiful term) extending into the gentle metatarsal has predetermined Abrams' fate.  The application to the ground of the plantar fascia (horrible term) may not be stopped.  (p 63)

The final piece in the collection is the title story, "Elegy on Kinderklavier."  It is a heart-breaking examination of a father and mother caught in the horrible whirlpool of their child's illness.  One parent stays the course, the other parent must leave when watching a child die becomes unbearable.  In a strange way, there is no judgement of either parent, just a reckoning of how these two people came together, made a child, and are each dealing with the stress of terminal illness.

Elegy on Kinderklavier will be available for purchase July 15 - it's already been selected as a Barnes & Noble Summer 2014 Discover Great New Writers Selection so check in the Discover Bay in July.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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