University of Alabama Press
96Pages; Print, $14.95
The term that kept occurring to me as I read Aimee Parkison’s Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman was “slipstream.” Which admittedly seems like a weird association for a book published in 2017. The term slipstream debuted in a 1989 essay by Bruce Sterling in the magazine SF Eye. Sterling intended it to describe a kind of writing that was not yet a recognized commercial category but might be: writing that slipped between genres, particularly between mainstream literary fiction and science fiction. As a genre itself, slipstream has never had much luck. “Serious” SF fans didn’t want it, and most of the mainstream literary world assumed it had something to do with starships. These days a pall of the 1990s clings to the word, as if one might expect to find it among old flannel shirts and discarded Nirvana CDs.
Perhaps instead of a genre or commercial category, though, it’s more useful to think of slipstream as a strategy, a set of aesthetic moves for slipping through and around and between set categories. These might include not just commercial genres like science fiction or fantasy, but the genres of the novel, the short story, the prose poem.
If nothing else, this would be a good place to start in describing Refrigerated Music, a linguistically daring, slippery book that refuses to be pinned down.
“Code Violations,” the collection’s first story, functions as a sort of ars poetica for the book as a whole. It describes the inside of an apartment that had “once been an actual closet,” in which “the toilet had been installed inside the shower, located inside the makeshift kitchen, which was also the bedroom and the living room, as well as the dining room.” The story takes place “during the early years of marriage, when there was no such thing as boundaries.” The narrator’s life, during these years, takes on something of the oceanic feeling that children are supposed to experience before they learn that there is a border between self and other, sink and shower.
The careful reader will detect an announcement, perhaps a warning, that the author of these stories is uninterested in distinctions between one story and the next, one narrator and the next. Phrases pass between stories like echoes. The title of one story will often appear, in passing, in the previous or the one to come. Narrators from one story to the next might be the same person, or they might not be; perhaps one narrator is a character in a previous story, or a thought that occurred to a previous narrator at some point, while going about the duty of narrating. Who’s to say where one consciousness ends and another begins?
Sentences at times snake away from themselves, reaching just beyond the point you expect them to end: “He spoke to her in strained tones underwater where the needle etched his name across her thigh, the needle that once read dust from his hands and banjo music on the scratched records in his grandfather’s collection.” The first part of that sentence, before the comma, would be strange, pleasantly so, if allowed to stand as a sentence on its own. What follows the comma pushes it momentarily past parsability. Though not an especially long sentence by modernist standards, it’s a slithery one—by the time we reach its end, the beginning has twisted itself free of our grasp.
The collection’s standout story, “On Flooded Roads,” begins in realist drag, the story of a kidnapping told by one of the volunteers aiding in the search for the kidnapped girl. Soon, though, the realism skews, sours and shifts—the search party, following the voice of the kidnapped girl, realizes she is running from them. The narrative, too, begins evasive maneuvers, slipping into a fragmented tale of ghosts, mistaken identities, and retired cadaver dogs, aiming for something beyond comprehension: the violence of the girl’s death. “Girls who want to...