“A Longing for Impossible Things: Stories” By: David Borofka
“A Longing for Impossible Things: Stories”
Author: David Borofka
Publisher: Johns Hopkins Press
Price: $ (Paper)
Story Collection Explores the Difficulties of Modern Life
David Borofka, a son of the American west, came through Tuscaloosa 40 years ago and took the MFA in fiction writing. He is one of our most successful products.
Borofka’s first volume of stories, “Hints of His Mortality,” won the Iowa Short Fiction Award in 1996. Oscar Hijuelos was the judge that year. In 1997 Borofka published a novel, “The Island.”
Since that time, he has published over 50 short stories, several of which have won prestigious prizes from journals such as the “Carolina Quarterly” and the “Missouri Review,” and 13 of which are collected here.
Most are set in Oregon or California, and the themes, subject matter and tone of this collection are fairly similar to his first book. They tend to be first person narratives, mini-memoirs—"let me tell you what happened to me!”—and Borofka gives the speaker space to tell his or her story.
They are stories of contemporary American life. That is to say, he writes about young people trying to grow up, courting in their various inept, hopeless ways, made ever more complicated by the breakdown of traditional gender roles and especially male models of behavior,
He writes of marriage with all its joys and horrors, of divorce and the children of divorce, remarrying, and work and lack of work and trying to maintain some kind of dignity in a modern materialistic American culture.
Summaries of his stories would make them seem grim. There is a good deal of failure and despair, misfortune, sickness and death. But Borofka is no cynic. The stories are often wonderfully funny.
In fact, his first book had as its epigraph Wordsworth’s “Ode, Intimations of Immortality…,” a hopeful and idealistic model.
This volume, “A Longing for Impossible Things” continues in that vein of frustrated idealism. Religion is involved, in many stories, but not in any conventional way.
The first story “My Life as a Mystic,” sets the tone.
It begins “Once upon a time I was very religious. I saw angels in my bathwater and when I opened the front door birds would roost upon my shoulder.
I can’t tell you that truthfully.
I was PREPARED for it, however.”
The narrator, Charlie, is constantly seeking God, in a leaf or the moon. Looking at the moon one evening, he drives off the road into a ditch.
He has a job as an assessor of agricultural land. He has no real knowledge, just uncanny intuition. The correct value of the orchard or field just comes to him.
He looks for magic in his life, but not everything is as it seems. Picking up a shabby girl who was sitting, playing her recorder for some orange trees, which she says, sing back, he believes he is in a mystical moment, but Maria turns out to be an escaped mental patient with multiple personalities, one of which tries to kill him.
In “Coincidence,” Cole Jensen for a while seems to have the gift of healing. His touch heals a wounded hand and then a broken ankle. He seems headed for the religious life, but the gift disappears.
In the story “Perfect, Perfect, Love,” the narrator joins a religious commune, a cult, which has demanding sexual practices, and not abstinence, as was the case for example with the Darwinistically doomed Shakers.
“Christmas in Jonestown” is in part a warning against excess. “… [N]ow in Jonestown they had lost hope and gained all manner of crazy.” In what is now a cliché, they drank the Kool-Aid.
One story in particular delighted me. Jamie, a college student, discovers that while drunk, and remembering irritations, she can turn out song lyrics for a heavy metal band.
“She watched people at the mall and turned out six more anger-filled ditties in three days.”
On the radio she would sometimes hear her “idiocy broadcast for the world to hear—covered as it was, by the metallic screech and whine of guitars, the crash of drums, her words screamed by thirty-year-olds posing as post-adolescents…. She was paid a ridiculous sum.” She buys a townhouse.
I have always suspected something like this.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.