Recommended Reading: Kevin Brockmeier’s “View From the Seventh Layer”

view from the seventh layer

Romance (n): A mysterious or fascinating quality or appeal, as of something adventurous, heroic, or strangely beautiful.

Since romance is becoming synonymous with steamy pulp fiction, strolls on the beach, and shitty novelty items designed to spice up a relationship, this definition of romance will appear in future Oxford dictionaries thusly: 
 

Brockmeier (n): A mysterious or fascinating quality or appeal, as of something adventurous, heroic, or strangely beautiful.

There’s a lot to love in this collection, as in all of Kevin Brockmeier’s work.  But don’t take my word for it; take his.

 

People who read Tolstoy find it difficult to be alive because they are reasonable, while people who read Dostoyevsky find it difficult to be alive because they are not.

The View from the Seventh Layer

“I’m having problems with the change machine.”

She gives the words an unusual emphasis, hovering over them with her voice like a flyswatter before falling dramatically on the final syllable.  The change machine?  Jacob pictures something straight out of a science fiction novel, an immense apparatus of hatches, levers, and conveyors belts that allows you to step in as one human being and step out as another, in which atheists change into Christians, stock car drivers change into politicians, great beauties change into wallflowers.

– The Lives of the Philosophers

It is one of the curiosities of life that putting on a smile can make you happy, just as putting on a scowl can make you angry and putting on tears can make you sad, and in much the same way, adopting the postures of modesty had made the people who would not look one another in the eye uncommonly reserved and timid.  They found it difficult to begin romances and just as difficult to end them.  Words such as love and need and miss came slowly to their lips, however quickly they came to their hearts.  Long after their youthful friendships had hardened and died, they would continue carrying them across their shoulders like laborers hauling sacks of gravel.  They cringed at the thought of bringing hurt to one another, no matter how unwittingly, and often they would lie awake at night silently chastising themselves for some tiny slip of manners they feared might have wounded someone.

And so it went on, with the years laying their winters down flat upon their summers, and everyone passing within inches of one another, and everyone looking away . . . 

-A Fable Containing a Reflection

Now is a great time to read Kevin Brockmeier because when he has his break out hit, you can say you read him when.  If you don’t like short fiction, he’s got excellent novels and his memoir just came out, so there’s Brockmeier out there for every taste.  
But May is National Short Story Month so let’s get back to View from the Seventh Layer.  Open to any story here and you’ll find a joy, but there’s one in particular that stands out.  It’s called The Human Soul as a Rube Goldberg Device.  It starts with you, wandering along, thinking your thinks, then getting the urge for a cup of coffee.  You find yourself in front of a coffee shop you frequent all the time, thinking this:

The waiters there know you well, but there are days when you enjoy being recognized and days when you don’t, when you want nothing more than the simple curt reactiveness of a stranger.

The next step in The Human Soul as a Rube Goldberg Device is deciding whether to go where everybody knows your name for that coffee, or to an anonymous chain, and then flipping to the appropriate page.  It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure story that’s like the ones you grew up with, but at the same time like nothing you’ve ever read.  I can’t tell you anything about it without ruining the read but I will say this – if there was one short story I could read over again for the first time, it would be this one.  Should you decide to take the leap, I’m jealous.  
But be warned; it’s a singular experience.  Like being “cubed,” you can only do it once.   


 

 

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