By Tantra Bensko
Lucid Play Publishing
Reviewed by Yuriy Tarnawsky
In her brief, eight-page piece "Collapsible Horizon," which gives the name to this collection of 48 lyrical, nonrealistic short fictions, Tantra Bensko shows how you can break some of the cardinal rules of fiction writing (character, beginning, end, progress, even story itself) while still creating a vivid, moving tale of life. She does it similarly to the way cubist painters represented three-dimensional objects in the two-dimensional space of a canvas, by breaking their surfaces up into their constituent parts and arranging them in a visually interesting way, creating works of art rather than images of reality. But Bensko does it in a literary way, working with language rather than space.
Consider the technique. The narrative starts with" (*1)," which is a reference to the first of the nine footnotes that come at the end. The sentence following the reference mentions physics, dreams, event horizon, and a character called Papa. The next sentence says Papa snores. The rest of the narrative is labeled "Scientific Experiment," which is broken up into "Premise," "Set-up," "Questions," "Materials," "Observation of Data," "Theory," and "Conclusions." Italicized The Dreams of Event Horizon intervenes between "Observation of Data" and "Theory."
Instead of a narration, we are given a collection of information on which to work—in addition to what has already been mentioned, there are dying, afterlife, breakup, jealousy, collapsing, characters called "Mama," "my man," "Grandma," and the nameless female first person narrator "I." Viewers of cubist paintings faced modern-day equivalents of Persian rugs and had to create their own images of what lay on the canvas, which they found interesting or boring, pleasing or offensive. Readers of literary equivalents of cubist paintings must create their own stories which make or don't make sense and to which they can or cannot relate.
The distinction between "I" and "my man" on the one hand and "Papa" and "Mama" on the other blurs, the two stories merge, and the result becomes confusing even to the narrator: "The experiment has taken us into the wormhole (*8), and all the characters are turned upside down and all rationality shaken from heir pockets. Rules no longer apply. . . .The land tilts. . . .The Event Horizon spins around and around like the dryer on murderous high heat." In the end, events collapse like waves in physics and everything gets jumbled up as when we sleep. Calderón was right—life is a dream. But nightmares are dreams too.
On the surface, the stories in the book all look different. They range in size from four lines ("Machine Gun Kelly") to twenty pages ("Consciousness Tells You a Story"). Subject-wise, we have a story about a salesman selling yard things—yard hats, yard triangles, yard purses, yard sticks, yard gnomes, and even yards themselves, "triple-deckers" no less, to have wild parties in ("Yard Man"); frogs in science labs "splayed" after the operation ("Frogs"); tight spaces between buildings in which "weekend explorers" get stuck and are forced to have sex with each other as a price for being extricated ("Passages"); shadows cast by dreams ("Shadows"); animals ("Sheep," "Goat," "Donkey," "Elephants"); imaginary creatures, a cross between monkeys and sloths ("Slow Lorises," "Slow Lorises in Moonlight"). There are other stories with Grandpas and Grandmas, Mamas and Papas ("Really," "Mama," "The House with Collapsible Rooms"), a story with the wonderful title "2-1=2+1," of Ian who lives inside the ribcages of Kundra, and a story called "Anti" about a frozen place which is called the Anti-Story that takes you to "Nothing. No story at all." But as Bensko tells the reader up front, on the table of contents page, they are really "all one story going into the black hole." The concept of collapsibility, of things turning into nothing, is what gives these stories unity, binds them into one coherent (w)hole. It is Tantra Bensko's equivalent of Camus' absurdity which in similar fashion permeated all his work.
Bensko calls her writing "lucid fiction." Lucid, meaning "illuminated." Giuseppe Ungaretti has a poem that says "M'illumino//d'immenso." —"I'm illuminated//by the immense." Tantra Bensko is illuminated by the collapsibility of life.