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Kevin Brockmeier: Things That Fall From The Sky


Things That Fall From The Sky

Author: Kevin Brockmeier
Publisher: Pantheon

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In spite of Kevin Brockmeier's clever notions and facility with language, one of the most fascinating elements of his debut anthology, Things That Fall From The Sky, is the introductory quote from G.K. Chesterton, who states that in fairy tales, "an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition." Chesterton does go on to give examples, including one from the Bible—"an apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone"—but much of the quote's power rests in the central concept's simplicity and precision. Brockmeier's stories, by comparison, rest on incomprehensible happiness and incomprehensible conditions, but they're neither simple nor precise, surrounding their core ideas with flurries of poetic phrases to aesthetically pleasing but sometimes distracting effect. Some of the contents of Things That Fall read like fairy tales: One story takes place in a world that's all airplane, where a society of plane-dwellers presumes that it evolved from primitive hot-air-balloon-dwellers, while another story tracks a day in the life of "Half Of Rumplestiltskin," one of the bipartite remnants of the fairy-tale gold-spinner, who furiously tore himself in two when his name was guessed correctly. (His other half emigrated, and they live apart, though it occasionally sends him blank-filled half-letters.) Others are more concrete, addressing a recently widowed man's difficulty in communicating with his son, or a lonely babysitter's adoration of the small child in his care. Brockmeier sets moods beautifully, and he has a light and delicate touch when it comes to allegory and illustration, but his best ideas are his smallest ones. In "The Jesus Stories," he serves up a multitude of Christ-themed mythologies, as written by an earnest tribe of converted natives who spin explanatory fables out of the Bible just as they once embellished their own folk tales. The conceit is merely solid, but one of the myths, set aside in a footnote, achieves melancholy brilliance, in comparing the life of Jesus to another culture-spanning legend. In "Space," he comes up with another winning image, of a woman shining her flashlight into starless areas of the sky, hoping that someday that light will reach, and illuminate, a dark and sunless world. Sometimes Brockmeier's lavish poetry enhances these little mental gems, while at other times it has a pleasantly soporific effect that nonetheless gets in the way of comprehension. Either way, Things That Fall is perfect for reading at bedtime, when the mind is most likely to accept Brockmeier's invitations to strange, whimsical dreams, either waking or sleeping.