The following is part 2 of 3 from Robert Garbacz.
[Author’s Note: This is the second in my three-part blog series on the importance of a rich and multivaried “texture” in which different parts of the story resist each other, making for a far more engaging piece. In part 1 (HERE), I discussed Greg Mitchell’s “Flowers for Shelly,” a piece that combined zombie mayhem, humor, violence, multiple characters, and a sweet-hearted love story in order to get itself on the “must publish” list. Here, I discuss a piece from Relief that is similarly textured, though in a more literary manner. Next week, I will conclude on a practical note, showing tips for writers and examining the payoff for taking risks.]
The sort of texture I talked about last week isn’t just for zombie romantic comedies, or even genre fiction. Another story that blew me away was Michael Snyder’s three-page tale of grief and madness inRelief 3.1. Read it yourself if you haven’t, as soon as possible. Once you have, here’s the last paragraph in full:
“I walk now. I talk a lot too. Out loud. Mostly to myself, sometimes to God. All the good smells are gone. There are no more kind eyes either, no more Tonys or groggy nurses. I do have my photographs though. And Hailey’s blanket. I bartered away Maria’s bathrobe for a pair of Pumas that don’t fit. When I get desperate, the priest will feed me or give me a coat. He tells me to keep talking to God, to say it out loud if I have to, no matter how the normal people look at me or move to the other side of the road. He says my decrease is Jesus’s increase, which sounds like total crap to me. Still, I continue to testify about the things I have seen and heard and smelled and done.”
This doesn’t look like a zombie romantic comedy, because it isn’t. What it does look like (and is) is a combination of different sorts of expectations, meeting in unique ways to provide a textured perspective that is true to life.
One would expect certain narratives, particularly in an explicitly Christian magazine: grief slowly giving way to acceptance, an increased understanding and reliance on God. Those stories are there, like the love story element of “Flowers for Shelly.” The narrator is talking to God more, with the guidance of a priest. He’s also moving on--maybe--with his final willingness to get rid of Maria’s bathrobe.
But there’s other flavors, as well. In addition to the comforting taste of acceptance, there’s a strong flavoring of bitterness and continued, self-destructive mourning. He may have given up Maria’s bathrobe, but he keeps Hailey’s blanket and the photographs. And while the narrator may be talking to God, he’s still profoundly suspicious of the preacher’s words, which often “sound like total crap to me.” And then there’s the sheer mundanity of life; he gives up the bathrobe not in some glamorous ceremony but in a trade for shoes which didn’t fit.
Again, it is the multiplicity of voices--even if they’re all within one person’s mind--that makes the story memorable, and in this case heart-breaking. And the conclusion doesn’t get rid of the complexity of flavors; it leaves them, in a melange of tastes that remain on the palate. Like a fine (and highly alcoholic) Trappist ale, the story leaves the reader a bit disoriented and uncertain, but with a delicious aftertaste to contemplate.
Robert Garbacz, when in his natural habitat, can frequently be seen arguing theology, politics, and art over ale with often excessive volume, haranguing his friends repeatedly with obscure but fascinating facts about Medieval literature, or staring cloyingly into the eyes of his beloved wife Hannah. Unfortunately, his natural habitat is Oxford in the period from 1930-1950. This is a bit awkward for someone born in Tulsa in 1983, but he is studying towards his Doctoral at the University of Texas in Austin and feels this is a firm step in the proper direction. His short story, "The Salvation of Sancho," appeared in the previous Diner anthology, inducting him into this peculiar world of horror, bloodshed, and merciless ravagement of grammatical missteps.