Book Reviews

Gigi Little, editor

Forest Avenue Press

Over the last few days I’d amassed a pile of library books on (the mind-body problem), looking for an answer. Instead, I had begun to suspect that I didn’t even really understand the question…This was for Metaphysics, a class I’d taken because I was then, as I am now, prone to mysticism—though the only reason Reed allows freshmen to take this course, as far as I can tell, is to cure them of such afflictions quickly.

from  Susan DeFreitas’s story, “The Mind-Body Problem,” in City of Weird

 

In recent years Forest Avenue Press, a small, independent publisher in Portland has brought out a number of noteworthy books by talented authors, like Dan Berne’s Gods of Second Chances, and Ellen Urbani’s Landfall. In October 2016, they published an anthology of “otherworldly tales” based in Portland.

Edited by Gigi Little, marketing director at Powell’s Books, the collection offers thirty short stories by local writers, a number of whom are transplants to Portland--here understood to be a kind of Mecca for the laid-back, the funky and the offbeat. (“I was too queer for small-town New England,” writes Brigitte Winter in “Octopocalypse: A Love Story,” “but here I feel obscenely normal.”)

Aspects of the city are captured in brief, luminous descriptions. Karen Munro (“The Color Off the Shelf”) observes the “big rain clouds reflecting sunlight and at the same time glooming up the whole city.” Rene Denfeld (“The Sturgeon Queen”) gazes upon “the huge, deep Willamette River as it sheened in the setting sun.” 

True to its title, many of these stories are…um, weird, suggesting flights of an imagination on steroids and without benefit of seatbelts. As with any anthology, different stories will appeal to different people. Among my favorites was Brian Reid’s “How I Got this Job”—a funny, wacky account of police chasing Santa Claus on his bibulous rampage through the streets of Portland (“I drop the nightstick and pull out my gun. I can’t believe I’m going to wing Santa. ‘Put the beer down, sir,’ I order. ‘Put the beer down.’”)

Andrew Stark writes a surprisingly touching tale of an animatronic dog comforting his dying owner in “A Code for Everything,” while Bradley K. Rosen’s “Yay” offers a bleak, powerful perspective into a homeless man’s sad, psychotic life in this city “with all its odd clients and good-looking bridges.”

There is also quirky, minimalist humor in Justin Hocking’s “Vampire” (“The vampire seriously regrets not buying a house in Portland when real estate was still affordable, back in 1896.”) and in Mark Russell’s “Letters to The Oregonian in the Year 30,000 BC,” discussing the benefits and abuses of the discovery of fire—“Our first attempt at cooking ended in a forest fire (sorry, Tree People.)”

Through these fantastical stories, thirty creative imaginations offer different interpretations of the city to our south. I liked Mark Russell’s ironic assessment: “More than anything else, people need a place to fail gently. To me, that’s what Portland is all about.”

 


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (November 15, 2016-January 10, 2017.) Reprinted with permission.