A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space by S.D. Foster (A Review by David Atkinson)

Eraserhead Press

108 pgs/$9.95

 

 As a preliminary matter, I am not an expert on bizarro fiction. In all honesty, I’ve never been able to truly define what it is, or is not. I’ve never been able to really be sure whether a story is truly bizarro fiction or whether it is just strange.

I do happen to enjoy bizarre and absurd stories. In fact, I adore them. However, a great deal of what people tell me is bizarro fiction ends up confusing me. I can appreciate good writing when it is there, and I can enjoy the absurdity, but often I am left puzzled as to what exactly the story is. This is not a fault of the particular story in question, or at least not most of the time, but is actually an indictment of my apparent ability to understand a majority of the bizarro fiction that is out there.

Frankly, I find a lot of bizarro fiction incredibly difficult to follow. I am not a casual reader. I’ve enjoyed books such as Infinite Jest, In Search of Lost Time, The Recognitions, House of Leaves, and many other such books that could not possibly be considered light reading. Still, a lot of bizarro fiction seems to me to be more experimental, very convoluted and complex in both language and structure. In a great deal of cases, it seems incomprehensible to me.

You can imagine my hesitancy when I considered picking up Foster’s A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space. However, the buzz I’d heard about the book piqued my interest to the point that I couldn’t refuse. My interest overcame my fears.

Imagine my surprise then when I found the stories in this book to be some of the most approachable bizarro fiction I’d ever run across. Consider the title story. The narrator lives in an empty, hollow cube. By mistake, he accidentally receives a kid’s meal instead of his normal order. Included in the kid’s meal is a “small plastic princess in a pretty pink dress.” Interestingly enough, the narrator starts ordering kid’s meals in order to get more of the princesses.  The real fun starts when the narrator crashes around one night in his sleep, destroying all but the original princess. The following ensues:

            Looking at the scene, these words slip through her static lips: “You’ve broken our children.”

            This comes as a great shock for a number of reasons. Firstly, flattered though I am, I didn’t know that we were an item. Secondly, she considers the others her children, despite the fact that they are identical in every way. Lastly—and perhaps most importantly—I’m certain not ready for fatherhood.

            After apologizing for my clumsiness, I try to explain this to her. Despite my explanation, she begs me for more children, drowning my reticence in her greasy blue eyes.

            When I give her more, as asked, she becomes amorous with gratitude and sidles up to my thing, heedless to the presence of children in the cube. For a few moments, I think my dream of previous nights might materialize. Sadly, her dress won’t come off.

            On closer inspection, it appears that both her body and clothing are simply different aspects of the same lump of molded plastic. This is terrifically frustrating—for her and me. Our honeymoon spoilt, my princess and I sleep on different sides of the cube.

I was thrilled. I delighted in the absurdity…and I could actually understand what was going on. It was bizarro fiction, but I could actually make sense of it.

Keep in mind, I am not saying that this isn’t good bizarro fiction simply because I can understand it. I have already stated that I am no authority on bizarro fiction. However, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything regarding incomprehensibility as a requirement for bizarro fiction. To the best that I understand, it must be bizarre.

Believe me, the stories in A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space are certainly bizarre. Consider the chimp that wants to be a singer in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Chimp. Or, there is always the young able-bodied woman who decides she wants to be a “quadriplegic motivational speaker” in The Ambition of Youth. If that doesn’t seem weird enough for you, perhaps you could try the narrator of Pit Fighting who, while stuck in a pit, remarks:

The Pit: accident or design? What is my role in The Pit? How can I make this pit a better pit? Is there anything beyond The Pit, life after The Pit? The light that escapes through the seal of the overhead hatch, faintly illuminating The Pit, and the periodic opening of the hatch suggests it, perhaps.

Even beyond appreciating the approachability of these bizarro fiction stories and delighting in the absurdity, I just plain enjoyed reading. I found A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space to be interesting, imaginative, and emotionally engaging. I may not have vast amounts of experience with bizarro fiction, but I know what I like…and I liked these stories.

*

David S. Atkinson is a Nebraska-born writer currently living in Denver.  He holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska.  His stories have appeared in “Grey Sparrow,” “Children Churches and Daddies,” “Split Quarterly,” “Cannoli Pie,” “C4: The Chamber Four Lit Mag,” “Atticus Review,” “Brave Blue Mice,” and “Fine Lines.”  His book reviews have appeared in “Gently Read Literature,” “The Rumpus,” and “All Things Pankish.”  The web site dedicated to his writing can be found at http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/.  He currently serves as a reader for “Grey Sparrow” and in his non-literary time he works as a patent attorney in Denver.

  • TKB

    >>bizarro fiction seems to me to be more experimental, very convoluted and complex in both language and structure<<

    Most bizarro is the complete opposite of this statement. It's usually very simplistic in language and straightforward in structure. I think you might be reading the wrong bizarro.

    I believe A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space is more representative of the genre than other works you've read.

  • David S. Atkinson

    Perhaps. Much of my experience with bizarro fiction comes from reading “Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens.” A lot of that seemed pretty convoluted and complex in language and structure. Perhaps that journal isn’t representative of the genre as a whole?

  • David S. Atkinson

    Regardless, if “A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space” is more representative of the genre then I’ll definitely be checking out the genre more.

  • TKB

    I believe “Bust Down The Door and Eat All The Chickens” is an experimental fiction magazine, not bizarro. It’s just edited by a bizarro writer. Experimental fiction tends to be convoluted and complex in language and structure. Bizarro tends to be a mixture of absurd comedy and pulp genre fiction. It’s fun, imaginative, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

    • David S. Atkinson

      I assumed it was bizarro. There are mentions on the Bust site regarding being a proud publisher of bizarro fiction as well as a quote on their main page by The Dream people calling bust the figurehead publication for the Bizarro, Absurdist, and modern Surrealist literary movements. Wikipedia also lists Bust as a bizarro publication (though that is just Wikipedia and therefore isn’t completely reliable.

      Maybe there is some bizarro fiction that is more experimental (or, maybe not everyone agrees on exactly where the boundaries of bizarro are and some people include a certain amount of bizarre experimental fiction) and that’s just all I’ve been running into. Regardless, I apparently would have been having a better time if I’d been reading more of the bizarro that you have been reading.

  • TKB

    Try reading Carlton Mellick III (Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland), Mykle Hansen (Help! A Bear is Eating Me!), Athena Villaverde (Clockwork Girl), Kevin Donihe (Night of the Assholes), or CameronPierce (The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island).

    There is some bizarro fiction with elements of experimental fiction (wacky style and structure) but those elements do not define bizarro. Most bizarro is weird in concept but fun in execution.

    • David S. Atkinson

      I’ll check some of those out. If they are anything like “A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space” then I’m betting I’ll have a blast.