Friday, April 16, 2010

Faith and Flesh

By Chip Schrader
Book Review Editor
“The Body of This” by Portland, Maine author Andrew McNabb, is a collection of short fiction, mostly flash fiction, depicting the spirituality, sensuality and architecture of Maine lives. While it is focused on sites like Marginal Way, Congress Street, and towns “forty five miles up the Maine coast from Portland” as far down as Boston, the stories, or better yet, snippets of each character’s life pulls this collection from regional fiction to a literary study.
The first story, “The Architecture of Things,” skims the back story of John Thomas, a tattooed blue collar worker and his lover Aoife, a devout Catholic who found true love in her opposite. The architecture of the story is sparse framework, many details are spared, and some sensual details and observations remain. Setting the tone of religion, eccentricity, sensuality, and nakedness, the story is well placed at the beginning.
To draw out the theme of eccentricity, “The Artist” begins with “My name is Trevor. I want to die.” As he tells his story about a moment in his life as an art student at the Maine College of Art in Portland, he watches a retirement home and paints it stating he wants to see it “breathe.” He observes the elderly people in a state of suspended animation by our culture. They waste away with nothing to do. But, as the story winds down, we begin to understand, in a way, where he is going with his fascination with dying, or being alive just before that time might come.
There are some very short pieces that McNabb somehow manages to wedge a complete story into, as well. “The Hunchback of Munjoy Hill” is about as long as this review, maybe shorter, and depicts an elderly man who suddenly takes to swearing in his old age. The reason springs up at the end like a riddle, and indicates a possible commentary on the change of human values without really judging the situation or character.
Such is the case with every story. The initial actions and descriptions make the reader shrug and wonder “so what,” and as the story winds to a close, there isn’t always a resolution, but the cryptic details make sense. McNabb spares the reader of any judgment or blame; snippets of their lives are just economically documented. The temptation is to blow through each story, but they demand the reader to meditate upon them. Like poetry, the reader should take each paragraph, and use the sparse wording as an opportunity to observe what is, and is not written.
From a character going back to their childhood home after years of forgetting their past, like in “Piles,” to a character who has never been naked before his wife in his eight decades, all of McNabb’s characters try to resolve the conflict between the spiritual and physical world. The common theme is managing one’s way through a strange life that follows no convention or norm that the architectures of society or religion, have failed to dictate. “The Body of This” is a wonderful surprise from a collection that could fit into a Sunday devotional.
Photo caption: (Courtesy photo of book cover)