- Ineffable Gnaw
172Pages; Print, $16.00
Feeling guilty about something? If so, the opening reflection, “Guilt,” in Gloria Frym’s latest collection of short stories, The True Patriot, is just what the ontological doctor ordered. For Frym, guilt is the “ineffable gnaw” within us. Guilt is part of our being—most likely there in the formation of our bodies and souls at the time matter rocked into a higher level of organization. We can’t ignore it by our absorption in the trivial because guilt won’t let us do that. It gnaws us like a dog on her bone. Guilt focuses our attention on things we have ignored to do or consider—things we are responsible for (including being tossed into existence) and have neglected. For the philosopher Martin Heidegger, guilt and conscience are mates, and conscience, which is silent, eventually offers one word: “guilty.” Frym writes:
Each plagued by guilt, engulfed, drifting into its quick drying liquidity. So that one notices whole bodies held together by this substance that would break into pieces without its ahistorical mortar.
With guilt exposed the book proceeds into 38 stories and “dispatches” on fire with satire, humor, parody and existential honesty. The personalities of who we are and the “true” patriots we purport to be come to life in unfailingly beautiful, lyrical and flowing sentences—sentences with a mandate to leap into new fields of ideas and associations, sentences blessed with the poetics of image and detail that offer testimony to Ms. Frym’s status as a poet. So with a flick of her talented pen, the reader leaps from “Guilt,” to “Nominative Destiny,” a humorous riff on the naming process to “No I Won’t,” a Panavision take on the world in progress as two road rage enthusiasts go at it on a local side street. Frym writes:
A red blimp floats a banner BUILD A MONUMENT TO YOURSELF, the homeless woman loses control of her cart, the cart rolls backwards downhill, a shirtless man runs backwards uphill, at the top of the hill a buck stops to stare with its doe and faun, a flock of crows land on the wires above the cars, and everyone lives happily ever after.
In The True Patriot, the world and life occur in their quotidian machinations, dilemmas, absurdities, unresolvable conflicts and history. In “Crossing Manhattan,” the reader follows Paul, an ambivalent divorced professor, in his cab ride to Ground Zero. Paul is not aware that the title of [End Page 21] the story foreshadows Walt Whitman’s, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Why should he be? He’s not a postmodern character, one given to debate with or one who intrudes on the author. Paul is real, back from Vietnam after delivering a paper on AIDS at a conference there. A man previously met in the story, “Tête Offensive,” discusses with his ex-wife, Nan, whether he should attend the conference scheduled there or not. Terrorism has landed in America; 9/11 has happened. Should he go? And now, what could be the possible connection between a cab ride to Ground Zero and Whitman’s poem? Paul is absorbed, on a mission; he wants to get as close to Ground Zero as possible and no amount of banter with the Pakistani cab driver or concern about the author’s genius in calling on Whitman will distract him from one horrific fact. Frym writes: “The smell. Paul’s sense of smell is tied to language, how to tell his children, his ex-wife, his friends, he can’t quite grok what permeates the cab.” Italicized words mark the truth and define the smell: “Burning rubber, burning metal, burning electrical wires, burning hair, burning flesh all at once. Acrid and highly polluted air.”
This olfactory “nightmare” pervades the story. Paul is depressed and silent until the same cab driver retrieves him from his visit. “They drive north along FDR drive…the water, the ships, the boroughs like little towns in a model, scaled down for the eye.” Whitman is present with them and the great American...